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Finding alternatives to gentian violet

[EngSoc executive members]
Engineering Society of Queen’s University (EngSoc) President Delaney Benoit, left, and EngSoc Orientation Chair Kennedy Whitfield, right, worked as part of a team that sought an alternative to gentian violet. (University Communications)

When Health Canada issued a safety alert on June 12 warning of potential cancer risks associated with exposure to gentian violet, Queen’s Engineering Society executive members started to search for a comparable but safe alternative in time for orientation week, then just 10 weeks away.

“Students love tradition, it’s one of the big pillars of our school,” says Engineering Society of Queen’s University (EngSoc) President Delaney Benoit. “I think there was an immediate concern that we weren’t going to be able to purple at all, that the tradition was going to be lost.”

[Purple people FRECs
During Orientation Week 2019, student leaders in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science used ProAiir Hybrid Face and Body FX Paint, left, as a safe alternative to gentian violet, right, used in previous years. 

Though a somewhat modern practice in the history of Queen’s engineering, the all-over skin purpling of some second-year students in character as orientation week leaders – FRECs – has been a part of the orientation since at least the early 1990s. Orientation leaders dunked themselves in kiddie pools filled with warm water fortified with the purple dye and medical antiseptic, gentian violet, to achieve the startling purple skin tone so fondly associated with engineering orientation at Queen’s. It came as a surprise that gentian violet, with its long history as a mild and medically-approved antiseptic, antifungal, and anti-parasitic agent, could pose unforeseen risks. 

Benoit, along with EngSoc Vice-President (Student Affairs) Zaid Kasim, and EngSoc Orientation Chair Kennedy Whitfield, started the search for a safe alternative. Benoit sought clarification on the risks for topical application from Health Canada, a process that took weeks. They met with Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Kevin Deluzio on the matter and fielded several inquiries and requests for comment from media. 

“We had to start making plans without actually knowing where we stood on the warning,” says Benoit. “We started researching alternatives right away: different things we could use, different approaches we could take.”

By the time Health Canada was able to respond to Benoit’s request for clarification (their advice was to entirely avoid using gentian violet on skin) Benoit, Kasim, and Whitfield had already tried several alternatives including food colouring, and some other food-related products they knew were approved for human consumption.

“Then we started looking at different types of face and body paints, cosplay and theatrical makeup, which is how we found ProAiir,” says Whitfield.

Finding a safe alternative

ProAiir Hybrid Face and Body FX Paint is billed by its manufacturer, Tennessee-based ShowOffs Body Art LLC, as a professional-grade body FX makeup. The company provided a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for their makeup that does not include gentian violet or any of its variants among the composition information. The makeup resists water and sweat, can be sprayed on or applied with a sponge, lasts about three days on the skin, but comes off easily and completely with soap or baby oil.

At home in Calgary, Whitfield was able to find a sample of ProAiir makeup in a retail store. Whitfield, Benoit, and Kasim tested it and said they were encouraged by the results. However, time was running short and finding the funds to pay for enough ProAiir to purple all the FRECs in time for Orientation Week was proving to be a barrier. Benoit says ProAiir costs about 10 times that of similar quantities of gentian violet but the supplier stepped up and offered a 50 per cent volume discount on the order. The EngSoc crew were able to secure further one-time support funding from the Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) Sustainability Action Fund. The ProAiir shipment cleared customs and arrived in Kingston with just a few days to spare.

Benoit and Whitfield demonstrated purpling with ProAiir on a FREC committee member, and Whitfield wrote and distributed among orientation leaders a document about how best to apply it with sponges and special spray bottles. Orientation Week, complete with its purple people, was a success.

“We were really excited by how it worked out,” says Whitfield. “The colour was a little bit different than gentian but that turned out to be helpful because we would have been able to tell if anyone had showed up to Orientation Week wearing gentian violet. We let the leaders know, ‘If you guys show up wearing gentian violet, you will be de-leadered.’ We found that no one went against that. We expected that one or two would try, but ProAiir worked so well, I think that people were happy.”

Looking for a long-term answer

Still, the story isn’t quite over. It remains to be determined if ProAiir is the long-term purple-peopleing  answer. For now, the faculty is taking a stance prohibiting people who have purpled, with any substance, from entering faculty buildings out of concern for damage to the facilities (similar to the policy adopted by Residences). This is of particular interest during next week’s Homecoming celebration.

The next challenge for the EngSoc executive to navigate is how to purple jackets in time for the end of final exams in December. Benoit says she is collaborating with representatives of Campus Equipment Outfitters, Queen’s University Residences, Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety, EngSoc General Manager Jay Young, FEAS Operations and Facilities Manager Simon Smith, and others to determine what if any alternative to gentian violet might be useful for dyeing jackets.

“The purple dyes that were recommended to us by leather suppliers all have gentian in them,” says Benoit. “We don’t know yet whether or not it’s safe to use gentian to dye jackets, so we are looking for an agent that gets rid of the gentian issue altogether. We are hoping to find a practical solution in the next couple of weeks.

“I think so far, though, that there was no spirit lost during Orientation Week because gentian violet wasn’t there. It had the exact same energy as in previous years, if not more, because we found something that worked so well, and that actually made the FRECs lives a bit easier in terms of application and de-purpling. ProAiir was just so much easier to use.” 

Supporting Indigenous student wellness

Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre staff member transitions to new cultural counsellor role.

[Lisa Doxtator]
Lisa Doxtator is the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre’s first cultural counsellor, a position that has been fully integrated with Queen’s Student Wellness Services (SWS). (Photo by Bernard Clark/University Communications)

Lisa Doxtator has been part of the Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre community since 2015, recruiting students to Queen’s, and leading student-led community outreach programs. Earlier this year, she became the centre’s first cultural counsellor, a position that has been fully integrated with Queen’s Student Wellness Services (SWS).

Doxtator provides individual and group counselling and therapy, and offers wellness and cultural programming to Indigenous students. New programs include The Sacred Fire, an event that gives students, faculty and staff the opportunity to learn about Indigenous sacred medicines, the fire, and smudging.

'Building a sense of community'

“Building a sense of community for the Indigenous students has been my priority, because Indigenous students need to feel a sense of safety and security, and to see themselves reflected in these safe spaces,” she says. “It’s important for students to have a place where they can open up about their personal experiences as Indigenous students on campus and feel heard, validated and supported.”

Doxtator is a member of the Bear Clan from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. She has a background in social work, with experience in trauma and recovery counselling, and is a registered mental health professional. Doxtator positions her therapeutic technique within an Indigenous worldview that acknowledges and validates Indigenous students’ experiences and histories.

“I am enjoying getting to know the Indigenous students and to hear how much it means to them that there is a cultural counsellor who can meet with them at Four Directions,” she says. “I have seen the resilience of Indigenous students at Queen’s, and how they continue to move forward to be the best they can be, regardless of the barriers they encounter.”

Connecting Indigenous students to health professionals

As a regulated health professional, Doxtator is a part of the Student Wellness Services integrated health team; which is composed of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and other counsellors with specific areas of expertise. Through the collaboration with SWS, she is able to refer and connect Indigenous students to these health professionals when needed. In addition, she can liaise with Accessibility Services, and Health Promotion when supporting students. Simply stated, her role is central to connecting Indigenous students with other services on campus.

“I am very proud of the work that Lisa has done in such a short time in the role. She is working towards building a strong community of Indigenous students at Four Directions and creating engaging programming for them to make time for their well-being,” says Kandice Baptiste, Director of Four Directions. “The collaboration with SWS has been very exciting and I look forward to continuing to work together to support the needs of Indigenous students at Queen’s.”

In the fall, Doxtator will be starting a weekly Mental Health Sharing Circle. This group will provide education and awareness about mental health issues that are relevant to Indigenous students, and give participants the chance to share their own experiences. In addition, she will be co-facilitating a counselling group with SWS entitled ‘Managing Powerful Emotions’.

Through her integrated position, Doxtator is able to increase the accessibility of wellness services at Four Directions, and implement her knowledge and awareness of the needs of Indigenous students to the services offered at SWS.

“Lisa has, in her short time in this role, brought so much knowledge of Indigeneity to our team of counsellors, and as such has been instrumental in building capacity. She has a warm quality about her that allows for the quick establishment of trust, both between her and the students, as well as with her colleagues,” says Rina Gupta, Director of Counselling Services. “The role she plays is so instrumental in supporting indigenous students in a way that allows them to feel understood, supported, and valued. Lisa sometimes plays a vital role in helping students feel more comfortable accessing the wider range of health services at Queen’s that many have held back from accessing previously. I am so happy to have Lisa on our team, and could not imagine it any other way.”

To learn more about programs and services, visit the SWS and Four Directions websites.

To set up a meeting with Lisa Doxtator, contact her at 613-533-6000 ext. 77986, or by email at lmd9@queensu.ca.

Sexual Violence Policy open meeting

Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion) Teri Shearer is hosting two open meetings to discuss the Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students.  

Meetings will be held in Robert Sutherland Hall, Rm. 202 on:

  • Thursday, Oct. 17, 5-6 pm
  • Wednesday, Oct. 23, 10-11 am

All members of the Queen’s community are welcome to attend or to submit comments for consideration to provost@queensu.ca .  

Gaels run for the cure

Queen's student-athletes raise more than $25,000 in support of breast cancer research, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and care.

[Gaels athletes at 2019 CIBC Run for the Cure]
Queen's Gaels athletes, including the men's rugby team, raised close to $26,000 in the 28th annual CIBC Run for the Cure in Kingston, on Sunday, Oct. 6. (Supplied Photo)

Queen’s Gaels athletes dawned pink as they participated in the 28th annual CIBC Run for the Cure in Kingston, on Sunday, Oct. 6. 

Queen's varsity athletes raised $5,539.11, but the men’s rugby team took the challenge to another level contributing a whopping $20,275.40 total representing an outstanding year in fundraising.  On Sunday, Queen’s Gaels athletes dawned pink as they participated in the 28th annual CIBC Run for the Cure in Kingston. 

The Gaels men's rugby team has almost made the event their own with their diligent efforts in fundraising. In 2018, the team raised an all-time high total of $30,437.62. 


The annual event began in 1992 when the Canadian Cancer Society and CIBC partnered with communities across Canada in order to raise money for breast cancer research. Since its inception the event has raised over $430 million and has expanded to 56 communities around the country.

The funds raised by Gaels athletes be invested into breast cancer research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment and care through the Canadian Cancer Society. 

Donations and support for the Canadian Cancer Society are still welcome.

Support Queen’s varsity athletes’ total.

Support the men’s rugby total.

Robert Sutherland Hall first floor construction project begins

The first floor of Robert Sutherland Hall will be restricted to authorized contractors only between Oct. 7 and Nov. 1 (inclusive) while construction is underway in a number of rooms. During renovations, there will be temporary restriction on general access as safe access to rooms, hallways and alternate exits may be impeded.

Timetabled classes are being moved from rooms 137 and 145 to allow the contractor to carry out necessary work and to minimize the impact of the noise and dust.

The Master of Industrial Relations (MIR) Office will provide updated class locations directly to all students and faculty affected by the temporary closure of the first floor.

Questions concerning construction activities should be directed to Fixit at fixit@queensu.ca.  Health and safety queries related to this activity should be directed to the Department of Environmental Health & Safety at safety@queensu.ca.

Working together on climate action

The university brought together experts and community leaders for a forum on climate change.

  • Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane delivers welcoming remarks at the Queen's UC3 Forum.
    Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane delivers welcoming remarks at the Queen's UC3 Forum.
  • Mayor Bryan Paterson addresses the audience at the Queen's UC3 Forum.
    Mayor Bryan Paterson addresses the audience at the Queen's UC3 Forum.
  • Dr. John Robinson discusses the ways in which universities can be agents of change for climate action.
    Dr. John Robinson discusses the ways in which universities can be agents of change for climate action.
  • MPP Ian Arthur introduces a panel on research and innovation.
    Kingston and the Islands MPP Ian Arthur introduces a panel on research and innovation.
  • City Councillor Bridget Doherty moderates a panel on community partnerships for sustainability.
    City Councillor Bridget Doherty moderates a discussion on community partnerships for sustainability.

Ideas about sustainability and climate change permeated Mitchell Hall on Thursday, Oct. 3 as Queen's University hosted the Queen’s UC3 Forum. The event brought together experts and community members for a daylong discussion of climate change and the university’s role in protecting the environment. The forum is part of Queen’s membership in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3).

The day kicked off with welcoming remarks from Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane, Mayor of Kingston Bryan Paterson, and Mark Green, Vice Dean (Graduate Studies and Recruitment) in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, who spoke in his capacity as a member of the Mohawk community. This series of opening remarks set the tone for the event, as the forum would go on to bring together a variety of perspectives from both Queen’s and the broader community.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges our society will face and requires us to work with our community and academic partners to find creative solutions,” says Principal Deane. “Events like the UC3 Forum are integral to helping us foster connections and provide opportunities to share knowledge and resources, inspiring us to build a better future together.”

Through a series of presentations and panels, speakers at the forum drew on their personal experiences and professional expertise to discuss many different aspects of climate action. For instance, Mike Gerbis, CEO of The Delphi Group and GLOBE Series, spoke about his career journey and the ways in which he has applied his education to the fight against climate change. And John Robinson, Professor in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and in the School of Environment at the University of Toronto, addressed the ways in which universities can be agents of change during the climate crisis. 

During the afternoon, leaders from across the Kingston area came together for a panel on community partnerships for sustainability. Moderated by City Councillor Bridget Doherty, the panel featured Paul MacLatchy, Environmental Director, Real Estate and Environmental Initiatives for the City of Kingston; Kristin Mullin, Executive Director, Sustainable Kingston; Warren Mabee, Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s; Nathan Manion, Principal Investigator at the Sustainable Energy Applied Research Centre (SEARC) at St. Lawrence College; and R. Donald Maracle, Chief for the Mohawks of Bay of Quinte. The discussion of the panelists highlighted the fact that collaboration is essential for meaningful climate action in the Kingston area.

Throughout the day, speakers engaged with audience participants in lively discussions about sustainability during Q&A sessions. Even though the forum is over, there are still opportunities for members of the campus community to have their thoughts on climate change and sustainability heard. If you have an idea on how to make Queen’s more environmentally friendly, you can submit your idea to the Office of the Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) through the Your Sustainable Idea page.

Bursary honours Roxy Denniston-Stewart

Roxy Denniston-Stewart
During her 19 years with Queen’s, Roxy Denniston-Stewart served as the associate dean, student services and community relations, and as the student and enrolment services manager at the BISC. (University Communications)

A new bursary is being established to commemorate a beloved colleague, community member and friend. Friends and family of Roxy Denniston-Stewart are invited to make donations to help fund a new bursary that will provide financial support to students who wish to study at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC), Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex, England.

Roxy Denniston-Stewart was known for her leadership, generosity, and continued commitment to the personal and academic success of Queen’s students. In her 19 years with Queen’s, she served as the Associate Dean, Student Services and Community Relations, and as the Student and Enrolment Services Manager at the BISC. Her work at the BISC furthered her belief in the transformational effect of a global experience for students.

Denniston-Stewart passed away in August 2019, leaving behind a legacy of unparalleled student guidance, compassion, and support.

“Thousands of students have benefitted from Roxy’s commitment to their success and well-being,” says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “That is why we are establishing the Roxy Denniston-Stewart Memorial Bursary, to commemorate Roxy’s invaluable role within the Queen’s community.”

The Roxy Denniston-Stewart Memorial Bursary will be awarded to students attending the BISC on the basis of demonstrated financial need.

Friends and colleagues can donate to the Roxy Denniston-Stewart Memorial Fund by visiting the Give to Queen’s website.

Future Prospects of the Agnes and Advisory Committee membership announced

Jan Allen, Director of Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre will retire from her position as of Jan. 1, 2020. Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion) Teri Shearer will co-chair an advisory committee that has been established to advise Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Tom Harris on the future direction of the Agnes, and on the selection of the next director.

Future Prospects of the Agnes and Advisory Committee Membership

Members of the university community are invited to submit letters with commentary on the present state and future prospects of the Agnes. Respondents are asked to indicate whether they wish to have their letters shown, in confidence, to the members of the advisory committee:

  • Teri Shearer (Co-Chair) - Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion)
  • Glen Bloom (Co-Chair) - Chair, Agnes Etherington Art Centre Advisory Board
  • Nadia Jagar (Secretary) - Manager, Special Projects and Business Officer, Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
  • Rebecca Luce-Kapler - Dean, Faculty of Education
  • Dylan Robinson - Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Arts
  • Kristin Moriah - Assistant Professor, Department of English, Language and Literature
  • Alicia Boutilier - Chief Curator and Curator of Canadian Historical Art
  • Norman Vorano - Art History and Art Conservation Department Head
  • Leigh Kalin - Interim Associate Vice-Principal, Alumni Relations and Annual Giving
  • Jean Pfleiderer - Associate Director, Human Rights Advisory Services
  • Jennifer Nicoll - Collections Manager and Exhibition Coordinator
  • Susan Lord - Professor, Department of Film and Media

The provost extends his thanks to the members of the committee for their willingness to serve. Please send all submissions to the Office of the Provost, via e-mail, to provost@queensu.ca, by Friday, Oct. 18.

Queen’s places fifth in latest Maclean’s university rankings

According to the 2020 university rankings by Maclean's, Queen’s remains among the top universities in the medical-doctoral category and is third overall in student satisfaction.

Queen’s placed fifth out of the 15 medical-doctoral universities in Canada according to the 2020 Maclean’s university rankings, which were released on Thursday.

First overall in the medical-doctoral rankings went to McGill University, followed by University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and McMaster University. The ranking features universities with a broad range of PhD programs and research, as well as medical schools. The two other university rankings are comprehensive, and primarily undergraduate.

The rankings covered five categories: students; faculty; resources; student support; and reputation. Within those categories Queen’s highest rankings were faculty awards (2), student satisfaction (3), student awards (5), library expenses (5), scholarships and bursaries (5), as well as the reputational survey (6).

Queen’s University once again led the way nationally in the proportion of undergraduate students who graduate (89.5 per cent), second in student retention from first year to second year (94.5 per cent), and sixth for average entering grade (89.8 per cent).

“I know that our faculty and staff take great pride in the work of this institution and what we have accomplished,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “We are undertaking innovative research and providing our students with an educational experience that continues to be recognized as one of the best in the country.”

Student Satisfaction Survey

As part of the rankings, Maclean’s looks at student satisfaction, with Queen’s placing third, behind Sherbrooke and Laval. Queen’s grabbed a spot in the top three in six of the 10 categories, led by a first place in extracurricular activities. The university placed fourth in steps to prevent sexual assault, second in residence living and third in experiential learning, promoting indigenous visibility, administrative staff, and academic advising staff.

National Reputational Ranking

Queen’s placed seventh out of 49 universities in the national reputational ranking, for a second year in a row. For the reputational ranking Maclean’s surveyed university faculty and senior administrators, high school guidance counsellors and a variety of businesspeople asking for their views on quality and innovation at universities. In the three categories of the ranking, Queen’s placed seventh for highest quality, eighth for most innovative, and ninth for leaders of tomorrow.

Program rankings

Maclean’s also took a look at selected programs in the sciences and social sciences, assessing research and reputation. Queen’s was ranked in each of the 10 program categories: Biology (10); Business (8); Computer Science (11); Education (8); Engineering (11); Environmental Science (10); Mathematics (13); Medicine (11); Nursing (10); Psychology (6).

2019 Queen's United Way Campaign kicks off

Launched on Oct. 1, the Queen’s United Way Campaign Committee has set a fundraising goal of  $370,178 for this year’s campaign in support of United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

Thanks to the continued support of staff, faculty and retiree donations the campaign is starting at 40 per cent of the final goal

Last year, more than 58,000 people benefited from United Way KFL&A-funded programs.

Queen’s community members can back the United Way through payroll deduction, a one-time gift, credit card, cheque or cash. 

To make a donation online through the United Way’s ePledge system, simply go to queensu.ca/unitedway and fill out the forms. Please note that if you donated last year and selected the auto-renewal action, no further action is required unless you would like to change your donation. 


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