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Shaping the future of Black Studies

As part of our coverage of Black History Month, Katherine McKittrick, the Canada Research Chair in Black Studies, talks about the evolution of the field and how we must harness this moment across academia.

[Photo of Dr. Katherine McKittrick]
Dr. Katherine McKittrick, Canada Research Chair in Black Studies
As part of its commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Queen’s is dedicated to promoting and supporting initiatives that recognize the experiences and contributions of the Black community and to facilitating important conversations around the barriers, including racism, discrimination, and inequities, members of this community continue to face. As we celebrate Black History Month, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the experiences, accomplishments, and contributions of Black community members in Canada, abroad, and right here at Queen’s to dismantling these barriers.
Katherine McKittrick, professor in the Department of Gender Studies and the new Canada Research Chair in Black Studies, is an expert in Black Studies, Black geographies, and theories of anti-colonialism and race. She is also the director of a new undergraduate Minor in Black Studies (Faculty of Arts and Science), set to launch next fall. Dr. McKittrick recently talked to the Queen’s Gazette about the importance of Black Studies to understanding oppression and liberation, how the field is intrinsically interdisciplinary, and why building community is necessary for Black Studies to flourish and grow in Canada. 
How would you define Black Studies? What are the aims of Black Studies?
Black Studies is, for me, a field that is invested in understanding the political struggles against different kinds and types of oppression. I’d also add that Black Studies is a creative-intellectual project that builds on, extends, and seeks practices of liberation. The aims of Black Studies differ across time and location, but there is a consistent and sustained commitment to theorizing and enacting social justice within and outside the academy. 
Does Black Studies look at Black narratives and experiences as objects of study?
Recently, the Faculty of Arts and Science announced the hiring of seven new faculty members to the Black Studies program, including four Queen’s National Scholars in Black Studies. Their recruitment was the result of an intensive search with a focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and scholarship that emphasizes global Black Studies. Learn more.
If we look to Black scholars, activists, and creatives, we notice that Black narratives and experiences have never been objects of study, per se, but that Black knowledge – how we know and experience and navigate the world – provides valuable information about how we might practice more ethical relationships with one another. What you will notice, across a range of Black texts and experiences, is a refusal of objectification that is always paired with a commitment to hospitality and conviviality, across racial identifications. I think it is important to emphasize that Black Studies emerges from Black thought but that it is also tied to projects of liberation that are global in reach and enacted by Black and non-Black communities. 
You've identified that Black Studies should move towards bringing non-academic and previously silenced narratives – that is, those told by Black writers, artists, musicians, and activists – into academic knowledge creation. What are the opportunities you see in this process?
Yes! One of the more meaningful threads in Black Studies is the commitment interdisciplinary scholarship and the willingness to work across different disciplines. For me, this has meant centering Black creative work in my research and thinking about how Black musicians, artists, activists, not only inform theory, but theorize in ways that cannot be captured by the academic form. Some of my central questions are, then, what does Black aesthetic theory look like? How is it practiced? And, what might it tell us about how Black creative methodology can undo racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of oppression? 
Many people think of Black studies as connected to the humanities and social sciences. Why is it important that we consider them as interdisciplinary and how do we build these connections?
Black Studies has always been interdisciplinary, and, if you study the genealogy of the field, you will notice that Black scholars read widely and lean toward using a very rich set of texts and ideas to think through their research. You will see, for example, work that links together urban planning, musicology, and studies of health or research that focuses on archives, mathematics, and the complexity of slave ledgers. Some of my upcoming work, for example, studies the bass, and I think about how the bass line in Black music not only provides a steady and groovy tempo, it also provides a way to think about how sound waves (longitudinal waves) materially impact and shake our surroundings. There are also wonderful connections being made between the STEM disciplines and Black Studies. I just had two wonderful conversations with physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein where we think through how particle physics overlaps with Black liberation movements, and how making these connections has amazing potential for rethinking social justice
One of your current research programs aims to connect Black Studies to physical geography. How do you plan to explore the racial dimensions of climate catastrophe?
Right now, I am researching Black intellectuals Paul Gilroy, Édouard Glissant, and Sylvia Wynter, and thinking about how they attend to climate catastrophe in their writings. One of Wynter’s most important insights, for example, is how we can connect plantation slavery and forced Black labour to extractive economies and how this history anticipates our current global predicament. So, I am thinking about how these scholars not only provide us with clues as to how we can make connections between climate catastrophe and race-thinking (racism), but also how they provide alternatives to how we attend to, and care for, our ecological worlds. 
In the past years, some Canadian universities, including Queen's, have been formalizing their Black studies programs. What are the next steps in creating more room for and highlighting the importance of Black studies within universities across Canada?
We are witnessing an exciting moment in Canada: new programs, certificates, and institutes that focus on Black Studies. What is next? We need to create the conditions to sustain these exciting moments by building community. So, in addition to hiring Black Studies scholars and librarians, we need mentorship programs, academic and non-academic spousal hires, administrative support that overlap with Black Studies, and the assurance that Black and Indigenous Studies continue to be, together, part of the university’s commitment to anti-racism. Furthermore, we need to acknowledge racism at Queen’s and in Kingston – the exciting moment does not erase the struggles Black faculty, staff, and students continue to face. Finally, making connections between Queen’s and other universities that are committed to centering Black Studies would expand and complicate how we engage the field. 
For more information on Dr. McKittrick and the Black Studies Program at Queen’s, visit the website.

What is a climate stress test? A sustainable finance expert explains

Factory spews smoke and fumes
Banks around the world are evaluating the potential impact of climate change and government regulation on their lending practices. Energy-intensive sectors, like coal and oil, tend to suffer most. (Unsplash/Patrick Hendry)

Imagine this: You take out a mortgage to purchase your dream home. But the rate you were quoted has expired, and when you go to renew it you find there’s been a major hike in interest rates. With this new rate, you are no longer able to afford your monthly payments.

How do you avoid this nightmare situation? The answer is a stress test.

In the simplest terms, a stress test helps individuals and institutions mitigate risk and make better decisions by playing out big economic shocks — like a major jump in interest rates or a global pandemic — to ensure they have what it takes to weather the storm.

A stress test is a “what if” exercise, where we contemplate scenarios that would pose the most harm to our financial systems and well-being in order to determine how we can best manage through them. They’re now being increasingly applied to future climate change and the financial risks that come with it.

A chart showing the top 10 risks to the world in the next decade
Climate action failure, extreme weather events and biodiversity loss, are the top three global risks over the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey. (World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2022)

Physical risks, transition risks

The 2008 financial crisis put the need for better risk planning into sharp relief, especially for financial institutions. It’s no coincidence that we have seen a steady rise in the use of this tool since that time.

Today, financial regulators, banks and policy-makers use stress tests to uncover weak points in how financial institutions operate and identify changes that will help buffer them (and our larger financial system and everyone who depends on it) from harm.

So, what’s a climate stress test? It is the same what-if exercise, conducted through the lens of different climate scenarios that have diverse and significant financial consequences.

On the one hand, there are physical climate risks. Think, for example, of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, ice storms or heat waves, that can damage property, disrupt supply chains, increase insurance costs, and shut-down operations. In scenarios where global temperatures rise higher, the physical risks increase.

On the other hand, there are also transition risks. This refers to the material impacts of various degrees of climate ambition and action.

For example, new or more stringent government policies aimed to further reduce carbon emissions or at a faster pace will have different financial impacts on different companies, depending upon their climate-readiness, and on different sectors.

Scenarios aren’t predictions

Climate scenarios take both types of risk into consideration, physical and transition. Like other types of stress tests, these scenarios aren’t predictions. Imagining what would happen if interest rates skyrocket isn’t the same as predicting that they will.

However, given the established scientific consensus that climate change risks are increasing and the high degree of uncertainty these risks create, climate stress tests are an important tool to assess the sustainability of companies, investments and our financial system overall. And there is increasing momentum behind this practice.

For example, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and the Bank of Canada recently released a major report examining four climate scenarios over a 30-year horizon, from 2020 to 2050, that varied in terms of ambition, timing of global climate, and pace of global change:

  • Baseline scenario: A scenario with global climate policies in place at the end of 2019.

  • Below 2 C immediate: An immediate policy action toward limiting average global warming to below 2 C.

  • Below 2 C delayed: a delayed policy action toward limiting average global warming to below 2 C.

  • Net-zero 2050 (1.5 C): a more ambitious immediate policy action scenario to limit average global warming to 1.5 C that includes current net-zero commitments by some countries.

Physical risks dominate

The results of the analyses were clear.

First, delayed action will lead to higher economic shocks and risks to financial stability. The longer we wait to act, the more drastic and sudden those actions will be.

Second, while every sector will need to contribute to the transition, the analysis showed that “significant negative financial impacts emerged for some sectors (e.g., fossil fuels) and benefits emerged for others (e.g., electricity).”

Third, macroeconomic risks are present, particularly for carbon intensive commodity exporting countries like Canada.

The European Central Bank also conducted a climate stress test with similar findings. It determined that climate change represents a systemic risk — especially for portfolios in specific economic sectors and geographical areas. For example, in the mining and agriculture sectors, or in oil-dependent regions like the Gulf States.

It also found physical risks will be more prominent in the long run, compared to transition risks. The physical risks of climate change on real estate in coastal regions or on supply chains is expected to be greater than the effects of changes in carbon pricing or other policies.

These findings have clear implications for companies and investors. Now more than ever the business case for prioritizing and evaluating corporate climate resilience is clear, especially as investors and lenders increasingly incorporate climate data into their financial decisions.

For example, it is now more broadly understood how climate policy changes could abruptly impact a company’s valuation and financial outlook. This makes climate policy foresight critical, for corporate leaders and investors alike.

As climate stress tests become increasingly common, their findings and implications will reverberate across the entire financial industry. Savvy leaders will both watch this conversation closely, and take the necessary steps to adapt and thrive.The Conversation


Ryan Riordan, Professor & Distinguished Professor of Finance, Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Finance, Queen's University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Patient aggression and physician burnout lead to a human resources crisis in health care

A medical team performs surgery on a patient.
A medical team performs surgery on a patient. Already a stressful environment, the pandemic has put extra pressure on the health-care sector (Piron Guillaume/Unsplash) 

Even before the pandemic, managing patient expectations and dealing with disruptive behaviour in medical clinics was already the top stressor for physicians. It was identified as the biggest contributor to burnout in a recent survey by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).

Examples of stressful clinic encounters include things like patients who demand drug prescriptions that aren’t medically needed, and those with unrealistic expectations about appointment availability, treatment results or wait times. During COVID-19, some patients became angry or confrontational about measures like masks and vaccinations.

A 2021 survey by advocacy group Doctors Manitoba found that 57 per cent of physicians reported mistreatment from at least one patient in the previous month. Verbal abuse included racist and sexist attacks, as well as being compared to a Nazi and accused of profiting from the pandemic. Other aggressive incidents included being spit on, vandalism, social media attacks, physical assault and death threats.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, physicians and other health-care workers faced new threats to their physical safety as protesters outside hospitals harassed staff over vaccine mandates. A national petition to put pressure on the federal government resulted in Bill C-3, enhanced legislation that increases penalties for harassment directed at health-care workers or restricting their ability to provide care.

Top stressor, but last priority

As a primary-care researcher, I focus on family physicians. My current exploration of interventions to reduce burnout in their workplace is providing some intriguing data.

The Quadruple Aim approach to health systems has four pillars: optimizing patient experience, improving population health, reducing costs and supporting health-care providers. Previous research indicated that “care of the provider” was least likely of the four aims to be addressed.

Similarly, the OMA survey found that addressing patient expectations — the No. 1 stressor — and providing solutions to deal with it falls way down on the list of priorities for those same physicians, behind addressing other stressors like administrative overload and work-life balance. This suggests the biggest contributor to physician burnout is unlikely to change even when the added stressors of the pandemic end.

At a time when Canada is facing a health human resources crisis, burnout is one of the key issues driving health-care workers to leave the field. Meanwhile, abusive interactions and demands from patients with unrealistic expectations are increasing, contributing to that burnout and adding extra strain to a difficult role.

Supporting doctors and clinic staff

Changes to the Criminal Code are welcome, but penalties only come after violence occurs. With a nod to the value of prevention, changes that support making clinics respectful and safe workplaces would support physicians as well as health-care staff and support workers.

Clinic receptionists also bear much of the brunt as displeased patients direct anger at them about inability to access immediate appointments or have insurance forms completed within a day or two. With minimal protocols or strategies in place to guide them, receptionists primarily rely on their experience to manage threatening situations.

Family physicians have limited choice as to who they provide care to. Reprisal from regulatory colleges limits physicians who want to speak out about aggressive patients, leading to acceptance as a way of adjusting to the demands of the job. The pressure to remain “patient-centred” should not limit a physician’s ability to outline clear expectations for patients, which should include civility at all times.

London protestors
Protestors take to the streets in London, opposing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Edward Howell/Unsplash)

Addressing incivility

Making change requires speaking out about what needs to change, such as calling the abuse and mistreatment of physicians what it is. That is what Doctors Manitoba did following the disturbing results from its physician survey. Nudging patients to reconsider demands made of their family physician may require consistent messaging to be used and supported by all levels of government, so that there are no repercussions for physicians to speaking up.

In addition to raising awareness about incivility in clinics, there is a need for in-office protocols to provide direction for physicians and staff when faced with incidents of aggression. Clearly laid out principles for the clinical work environment may provide added authority to address incidents of aggression when they arise, and may reduce burnout among physicians. Such protocols could also inform patients that, as a basic standard of behaviour, aggression is not acceptable.

Physicians are accustomed to dealing with patients at their most vulnerable, and manage emotionally charged patient encounters with compassion and understanding. They are trained to take each individual situation into account. However, workplace intimidation and violence must be considered occupational hazards for anyone working in a medical clinic.

A physician-patient agreement, which can spell out the responsibilities and accountabilities for both parties may be useful to establish a common understanding of what should be a positive, and long-term relationship. Clinic behaviour expectations which include zero tolerance for violence are not unreasonable.

Federal party leaders have expressed support for health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, including condemned the harassment of health-care workers and blocking patient access at hospital protests. This support should not dissipate when COVID-19 eventually ends, and the time comes to address growing problems in health care identified during the pandemic.

The health-care system belongs to us all. As a major cause of physician burnout, this crisis of incivility and abuse threatens the people who patients need to trust when their health is at stake. It affects anyone who is a patient, has ever been a patient or is hoping to become a patient of a family physician.The Conversation


Colleen Grady, Assistant Professor, Family Medicine, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Steven Smith appointed as Deputy Vice-Principal Research

Steven Smith
Steven Smith is the inaugural Deputy Vice-Principal (Research) for Health Research.

Reflecting the importance of health as an interdisciplinary research strength and recognizing its significance in a post-pandemic world, Vice-Principal (Research) Nancy Ross is pleased to announce the appointment of Steven Smith as the university’s inaugural Deputy Vice-Principal (Research) for Health Research.

In this new role, Dr. Smith will work closely with the research community, faculties, and affiliated hospitals (Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Providence Care) to provide institutional leadership for the coordination and attraction of resources and partnerships to expand and amplify Queen’s health research strategy and profile.

As the Vice-Dean (Research) for Queen’s Health Sciences since January 2020, Dr. Smith has served the Queen’s research community in many capacities. With the support of David Pichora, President and CEO of Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), Dr. Smith will continue to serve as Vice President, Health Sciences Research at KHSC, and, with the support of the Board of Directors of the Kingston General Health Research Institute (KGHRI), as President and CEO of the institute.

Dr. Smith completed his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry at Western University, where he also earned his PhD in 1998. Before joining Queen’s Department of Biochemistry in 2001, Dr. Smith completed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Oxford as a Burroughs Wellcome Hitchings-Elion fellow and McGill University as a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Smith has taken on several leadership positions while at Queen’s, including as Associate Head for the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences (2011-2016) and Director of Research for the Faculty of Health Sciences (2017-2019).

An expert in structural biology and biochemistry, Dr. Smith is widely recognized within the scientific community for his research contributions. In 2009, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Research Award. He is the recipient of a Queen’s Health Science’s Mihran and Mary Basmajian Research Award and a CIHR New Investigator Award. In recognition of his commitment to student learning experience, Dr. Smith has earned several accolades, including the Queen’s Health Sciences Education Award and the Life Science Student Choice Teaching Award.

For more information on the appointment, visit the Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio website.

Celebrating undergraduate research

The Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships see participants advancing unique research projects across the social sciences, humanities, and creative arts.


  • [Aidan Gurung's USSRF presentation]
    Aidan Gurung, “How Money Moves: Remittances in Nepal through the lens of Social Reproduction” - Supervisor: Beverly Mullings
  • [Lisa Sanchez's USSRF presentation]
    Lisa Sanchez, “The Right to Remain of Single Room Occupancy Dwellers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside” - Supervisor: Jeff Masuda
  • [Omar Baboolal's USSRF presentation]
    Omar Baboolal, “On punitive common sense, social debt, and meaningful social change” - Supervisor: Lisa Guenther
  • [Zoe Mack's USSRF presentation]
    Zoe Mack, "An Unintelligible and Unprovable Nature": Lesbianism in 20th Century English Criminal Law - Supervisors: Ishita Pande & Rebecca Manley

During the academic year, students engage in research as part of their course curricula. In the summer months, however, free from the typical structure of university classes, a handful of ambitious students take it upon themselves to pursue independent research projects outside their typical area of study, providing them the opportunity to engage in discovery-based learning and develop critical thinking and research skills.

Unique undergraduate research experience

Each year, the Undergraduate Student Summer Research Fellowships (USSRF), an annual program sponsored by the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio, provides students pursuing a bachelor’s degree a chance to conduct social sciences, humanities, and/or creative arts research under the guidance of a Queen’s faculty member. This year, 21 fellowships were awarded to Queen’s students.

Following the completion of their fellowships, students presented their projects and posters at a virtual celebration with faculty supervisors, peers, and family hosted by Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). Recipients created three-minute videos to share their findings, then gathered virtually in small groups with Principal Deane and Dr. Ross to discuss their research interests and project insights and share their overall experiences with the program.

“The Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio is proud to have sponsored the USSRF program for more than 10 years,” says Vice-Principal (Research) Ross. “Integrating research opportunities in the undergraduate experience at Queen’s provides students with a strong foundation in discovery-based learning and critical thinking skills that will benefit them in their further studies and throughout their careers.”

2021 project highlights

Aidan Gurung worked on her project with Beverly Mullings (Gender Studies) to understand Nepali migrant workers and the impact of their remittances through the lens of social reproduction theory (the theory that society cannot function without the unpaid household labour traditionally performed by women). Gurung found that remittances were not substantial enough to relieve Nepali women of their social reproduction work and instead, 79 per cent of remittances were used to cover basic necessities such as food and housing. Gurung’s next steps are to review a complete data set and to synthesize her findings in an op-ed article.  

Lisa Sanchez, under the supervision of Jeffrey Masuda (Kinesiology and Health Studies) and Sanjana Ramesh (support staff member at The Right to Remain project), conducted a proof of concept study exploring police presence in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside which has occurred under The Right to Remain project (a research project which seeks to document and support tenant-led advocacy efforts on housing and human rights in the area). Through analysis of archival documents and interviewing of SRO tenants, Sanchez collected insights and made preliminary observations on the relationship between police and the SRO tenant community.

Omar Baboolal conducted his project with Lisa Guenther (Philosophy). Baboolal’s research focused on punitive common sense, social debt, and social change, examining how these concepts have become engendered in our society, which he argued is not for the best. Baboolal concluded that it is necessary to dispel these conceptions and instead adopt ‘Non-Reformist-Reform’ which is reform that does not make it harder to dismantle the oppressive system itself.

Zoe Mack, under the supervision of Ishita Pande (History), explored why lesbianism was largely ignored by English criminal law in the 20th century and how it was framed in the rare instances it did enter into the legal archive. Mack analysed primary source documents from two specific events in the legal record to investigate her research question. Mack concluded that the lack of regulation on lesbianism may have been a means of purposeful suppression through denial of its existence on an institutional level.

How to participate

Are you an undergrad interested in research? Applications are open for the 2022 USSRF program until March 1. Nineteen fellowships of $6,000 each are available on campus for four months (May-August). Two fellowships of $5,000 are available at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle, England for the duration of three months (May-July).

Note: Due to current pandemic-related restrictions, the 2022 USSRF program may be conducted remotely. A decision regarding this will be made in early 2022, and posted on the Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio website.

For more information and to watch this year’s presentations, visit the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio website.

Shifting the dial on structural and social stigma

For more than 10 years now the Bell Let’s Talk campaign has been raising awareness, increasing understanding, and opening dialogues about mental health.

For more than 10 years now the Bell Let’s Talk campaign has been raising awareness, increasing understanding, and opening dialogues about mental health.
For more than 10 years now, Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen's University, has worked to foster discussions and raise awareness about the social and structural stigma surrounding mental illness. (University Communications)

It has been more than 10 years since the first Bell Let’s Talk Day was held on Jan. 26, 2011. During that time, Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen's University, has seen the campaign grow in scope and make significant inroads in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Programs have been set up throughout Canadian society that are increasing understanding, opening dialogues, and improving the interactions with people with mental illness. When added together, there is clear progress.

Mental Health Promotion Week
Queen’s University is hosting a series of events and initiatives during Mental Health Promotion Week (Jan. 24-28).These include:
• Announcing the first Classroom Champions for Mental Health
• Rest & Relax Challenge – book a Peer Wellness Coaching session or Professional Healthy Lifestyle appointment
• Get Active Challenge – register for a virtual fitness class with Athletics and Recreation
• Create some beautiful affirmation art with the Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services
• Visit the virtual photo booth available on Bell Let’s Talk Day
• Go online and download the Bell Let’s Talk Tool Kit
• Nourish yourself by registering and picking-up a free Fresh Food Box
• Join Stories Spark Change with best-selling authors Roxane Gay and Eternity Martis
• Embrace nature in the Get Outside challenge.
Learn more about Mental Health Promotion Week.

“It makes a huge difference. It is beginning to shift the dial I think for structural stigma and social stigma,” Dr. Stuart says. “It’s a slow process and there’s lots to do yet but a fundamental decision is moving away from attitudes and trying to aim at behaviours, even if they are small behaviours, because they will accumulate over time and give people a way to do things differently.”

From raising awareness and providing tools in the early days of the campaign, Dr. Stuart says that one of the drivers of her research is informing public policy and the decisionmakers. It’s part of the continual evolution of the campaign.

“I see research as an important advocacy tool,” she says. “Having data that highlights the scope and magnitude of a problem in our society can be used to get funders attention and if you do it often enough and put the data in front of them often enough, then the questions start to be asked ‘Why aren’t you doing something about it?’”

At the same time, her research looks into solutions so that when policymakers and funders become engaged, they can be informed on the next steps. This means years of working with community partners, evaluating programs, and developing guidelines that are tried and tested.

“It’s kind of like bookends,” she explains. “On one side you want to point out the problem but on the other you want to point out the solution as well.”

Making a difference

Over the past decade, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign has raised more than $123 million to support a wide range of initiatives in the mental health community, including Dr. Stuart’s research chair. This has supplied important funding for everything from grassroots programs to in-depth research that provides the evidence to move forward.

The Bell campaign, Dr. Stuart says, has made a massive difference in the way many Canadians look at mental illness.

“The thinking behind it, the infusion of funding, the awareness that has been raised has all been exemplary,” she says. “They’re changemakers, they’re leaders. To have the courage to stand out at a time when no one was talking about mental illness or really doing much about it, and then putting it out there in full public view, that has been quite astounding and I have nothing but praise for that.”

This year, Bell has introduced funding and partnerships in support of members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities as well as the post-secondary education sector.

Pandemic adds more stress

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus have had a significant impact on the mental health of many people. Data show increased stress and anxiety while depression has become even more common as people deal with the continuing uncertainty and restriction to social interactions, all of which are out of their control.

While Dr. Stuart’s research has not dealt directly with the pandemic it is clear to her that there has been a negative effect on many people’s mental health. Perhaps the one silver lining is that this has increased awareness of the importance of mental health and that many people now have a touchpoint to understand mental illness better, either through their own experience or through that of a family member, friend, or colleague.

“I think the pandemic has brought mental illness very close to home and it gives people a point of empathy,” Dr. Stuart explains. “They see how their friends, their colleagues, or family are managing and what they do to manage and I think it really improves empathy for these kinds of mental health experiences and challenges.”

A growing understanding

In recent years, Dr. Stuart points out, there has been an increasing interest in the public health effects of mental illness. Epidemiological studies show that of the 10 leading causes of disability-adjusted life years, five are mental health problems. If these are added together, they are the most common cause. This has led to a growing understanding that there is a huge hidden burden with mental health conditions and mental illnesses.

However, not all changes need to be big. Even small changes in the way each of us behaves or views mental health add up to something bigger.

“I think the message is that everyone can do a little something and it will make a difference,” Dr. Stuart adds. “It’s all of our responsibility to think about how we can help the problem.”


On Bell Let's Talk Day (Jan. 26) follow Queen's University on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to learn more about what the university and its campus partners are doing to raise awareness about mental health and stigma, as well as the supports and resources that are available for students, faculty, and staff. 

Teaching music online in the pandemic has yielded creative surprises

From incorporating video-based performances to learning new composition apps, teaching students virtually has forced music educators to learn and share new ways to reach students.

Blob Opera, developed by Google and AI artist David Li, lets students manipulate a soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet of blobs. (YoutTube/Google Arts & Culture)

Learning to make music is a full mind-and-body activity. Whether teaching how to play a musical instrument, or how to sing, teachers rely on learners’ physical cues to help them progress — cues that are often obscured either by watching someone on a screen or listening through a microphone. As a music educator, I’d hazard that few school music teachers would opt to teach their students remotely.

The ConversationHowever, as many teachers and students have discovered in the last two years of on-and-off virtual school, music lessons during the pandemic have unearthed some pleasant surprises.

Going online has forced music educators to adapt existing ideas, or adopt existing technology, to discover, invent and share ways to reach students to keep music education alive.

Instrument-free music

During the pandemic, most school-based music teachers have faced the challenge that elementary students don’t have access to instruments at home. This often leaves online tools as the default. As school budgets are always stretched, it’s important for programs to be very inexpensive or preferably free.

At the elementary level, students can enjoy and learn from apps such as Incredibox, where students can explore beatboxing, combining rhythms and sound effects to create unique pieces. Beatboxing musicians who create complete musical works manipulating their breathing, mouths and throats inspired this tool’s development.

Or teachers can introduce students to choral exploration in Blob Opera, a “machine learning model trained on the voices of four opera singers,” developed by Google and AI artist David Li. In Blob Opera, students manipulate four operatic blobs — a soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet — and can have them sing a variety of pieces on global stages. Students can “take the blobs on tour” where they might sing a Korean folk song in Seoul, or a piece by composer Erik Satie in Paris.

On various platforms, students are able to share their creations live with teachers and classmates. I’ve found that when we introduce technology to students, they often take it in unexpected directions. One student I was teaching set up a rhythm on Incredibox and left that window open and playing to accompany a Blob Opera set: not an obvious musical pairing but a wonderfully creative one.

Learning from home with instruments

Even before the pandemic, some music researchers were interested in helping educators overcome hurdles with teaching instrumental music online and how online lessons could benefit children in rural locations. However, singing and playing instruments online comes with its own set of technological issues, the most prominent of which is time lag — what some of my students refer to as “glitchiness.”

However, research conducted during the pandemic suggests that teaching students how to play instruments online can offer music teachers the chance to redefine curriculum, set new goals for students and consider new criteria for evaluation.

For students who have access to instruments at home, music teachers can use a flexible accompaniment app like SmartMusic. Without altering pitch (a critical capability), students can change playback speeds, manipulate the nature of accompaniment they hear, activate a metronome and even click on individual notes in a score to show the fingering and sound of the note for specific instruments.

This program costs money, but schools are able to purchase site licenses, thus making the resource accessible to more students.

Sound exploration

Google’s Chrome Music Lab suite offers learning for K-8 students. Younger children can explore rhythm, or teachers and students can explore melody, harmony, form, duration, rhythm, timbre and tempo to compose relatively complex electronica, save projects and submit them for assessment.

At the secondary level, teachers can encourage students to explore and collaborate on Bandlab, a program akin to Apple’s Garageband. Students can compose pieces using standard western notation on the web-based Noteflight — especially accessible because it requires no downloads or sharing of personal information.

Some online offerings promote healthy movement at home. Ollie Tunmer, British body percussionist and former STOMP cast member, hosts professional development for teachers and short lessons for kids.

Other teachers have posted clips exploring form and movement in music, based on techniques from an approach to teaching rhythmic movement, listening and embodied music intuition known as Dalcroze Eurythmics and subsequent work by early childhood music educator John Feierabend.

Making music education more inclusive

Aside from making music at home accessible for many students, online learning that focuses more on pop music, electronica and rhythm-heavy musics tends to shift the curricular emphasis away from predominantly western art music like “classical” genres.

Music researcher Margaret Walker examines how music education in the West has traditionally advanced European exceptionalism and cultural superiority. Walker is one of many music educators promoting music education that reflects the cultural diversity of learners. Music education researcher Lucy Green found that students who have more choice about their own repertoires are more successful and stay with music longer.

Revising music curricula to be more inclusive may involve both introducing new forms of music, but also repositioning canonical artists like Mozart and Bach within a broader musical context to allow entry and success for more learners.

Learning about music

Music curriculum calls not just for making music but also learning about music. Online read alouds, — narrated stories accompanied with music — existed before the pandemic but likely became even more useful in remote contexts. Favourites of my students include Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition Peter and The Wolf and the 2015 children’s book Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews.

Music educators and students also benefit from the isolation-inspired composite style videos such as the Kingston Youth Orchestra’s performance of Cold Play’s “Viva La Vida,” especially when students cannot currently attend live performances.

For younger children, Evan Mitchell, conductor of the Kingston Symphony, launched a children’s online music series, Harmon in Space! The series sees Harmon, a fuzzy dog puppet, isolated on a spaceship. Harmon’s limited social contact happens via online chats with musical friends — members of the Kingston Symphony. The first episode has over 11,000 views on YouTube. When I interviewed Mitchell, he said he has received many letters from children concerned for Harmon’s safe return to Earth.

No one wants remote music education to become the norm for most students. But the creative minds who have made it feasible, fun and often productive have given us unexpected gifts and welcome strains of beauty amidst global noise.The Conversation


Robbie MacKay, Lecturer in Musicology, Dan School of Drama & Music, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Early career chemist earns Ontario’s Polanyi Prize

Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh is advancing innovative computational molecular design techniques to support new drug development and other applications.

[Photo of Dr. Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh]
Dr. Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh (Chemistry)

When scientists need chemical compounds for a new drug or to develop a new material, they look to nature’s repository to see what they can find. Otherwise, they must create entirely novel molecules with the specific characteristics they need. Farnaz Heidar-Zadeh, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, is advancing new methods and software that will improve efficiency in molecular design. For this work, she has been awarded the Council of Ontario Universities' (COU) 2021 Polanyi Prize in Chemistry, which is granted annually to early career researchers.

"The Ontario government supports exceptional research that advances new discoveries and innovation, fosters a skilled labour force, and promotes economic growth," said Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities, at the COU prize announcement. "Recipients of the John C. Polanyi Prizes are producing much-needed solutions to address some of life’s most challenging problems to ensure a bright future for the people of Ontario."

A banner week for Queen’s chemistry
The Polanyi Prize win comes just on the heels of Queen’s chemistry professor, Dr. Cathleen Crudden, receiving $24M in support from the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund. Crudden and team are developing a fundamentally new approach for protecting metal surfaces that could transform industries. Read more.

Dr. Heidar-Zadeh has combined quantum chemistry and machine learning to make computational molecular design faster, scalable, and more economical. The innovative approach melds state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms with data from quantum mechanics to expedite screening millions of molecules to identify promising compounds for further theoretical and experimental scrutiny. One of the applications of this work is the efficient design and ability to test millions of molecules that can be used to develop new drugs. The same methods can also be used to explore phenomena that can be expensive or dangerous to experiment with, like astrochemistry and physiological responses.

"Having my research recognized by the Polanyi prize is not only a huge honour, but it also endorses and accelerates my group’s endeavour," says Dr. Heidar-Zadeh. "Following Polanyi’s lead, I hope our research brings fundamental insights into chemical phenomena and practical benefits to Canadian society."

Dr. Heidar-Zadeh holds a B.Sc. in chemistry, a M.Sc. in theoretical chemistry from Shahid Beheshti University (Tehran, Iran), and a dual-Ph.D. in chemistry from McMaster University and physics from Ghent University. She has also completed postdoctoral studies at the University of Luxembourg, Ghent University, and the University of California at Berkeley before joining Queen’s University, where she co-leads the QC-Devs software development team and is the lead developer for the ChemTools and HORTON software packages.

"The COU Polanyi Prizes showcase Ontario’s early career researchers at a critical point in their research trajectories and provides them with tools to advance groundbreaking and innovative work," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "My sincere congratulations to Dr. Heidar-Zadeh and the other recipients!"

The COU grants the Polanyi Prize ($20,000 value) annually to early career researchers or post-doctoral scholars working at Ontario universities in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and economic science. The award honours the legacy of John Charles Polanyi, a University of Toronto professor who received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies on the dynamics of chemical reactions. Dr. Heidar-Zadeh is the fifth Queen’s laureate to receive the prestigious prize. The other recipients, include Graeme Howe (Department of Chemistry, 2020), Nicholas Jay Mosey (Department of Chemistry, 2009), Derek Andrew Pratt (Department of Chemistry, 2007), and Kevin John Robbie (Department of Physics, 1999).

For more information on the 2021 Polanyi Prize recipients, visit the Council of Ontario Universities website.

Six Canada Research Chairs announced for Queen’s

The Canada Research Chairs program advances the country’s position as a leader in discovery and innovation.

As part of a bundled science announcement made today by the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne five researchers at Queen’s University have been named Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs (CRC) – including two new appointments and three renewals  and one Tier 2 CRC. The prestigious honour recognizes outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields

The new CRCs are Katherine McKittrick (Gender Studies) (Tier 1), Caroline Pukall (Psychology) (Tier 1), and Kimberly Dunham-Snary (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) (Tier 2). Ying Zou (Electrical and Computer Engineering) has been promoted from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1 Chair, and, seeing a renewal of their Tier 1 CRC appointments, are Mark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), and Alan Jeffrey Giacomin (Chemical Engineering).

“The Canada Research Chairs program continues to attract  and retain our country’s best and brightest researchers,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “Each of these outstanding researchers will continue to contribute to new discoveries across multiple disciplines, enhancing the culture of research excellence here at Queen’s.” 

Support for cutting-edge research
As part of today’s bundled science announcement, Queen’s also received over $24 million in support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund: Transformation stream to advance research into cutting-edge molecular coatings that preserve metals from deteriorating. Additionally, for the 2020-21 period Queen’s University received a total of 281 Tri-Agency Scholarships and Fellowships for graduate students, with an overall funding value of more than $7.25 million.

The CRC program is a tri-agency initiative of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s national funding bodies. There are two levels to the CRC program: Tier 1 chairs (seven-year term) are recognized by their peers as world leaders in their respective fields, while Tier 2 chairs (five-year term) are recognized as emerging leaders in their research areas.

Currently, Queen’s is home to 49 Canada Research Chairs.

“I am beyond proud of the Canadian institutions and researchers who think outside disciplines and borders to tackle major challenges,” says Minister Champagne. “These programs are a catalyst for amplifying new voices, insights and discoveries that will answer communities’ needs, elevate our innovation hub and shape Canada’s prosperity for years to come. Congratulations to all recipients!”

Overall, on Wednesday, the Government of Canada, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), invested than $9.5 million in research infrastructure to support 43 Canada Research Chairs at 19 institutions across the country.

Queen’s new and renewed CRCs are:

Katherine McKittrickKatherine McKittrick (Gender Studies), CRC in Black Studies, Tier 1 (SSHRC)

Dr. McKittrick’s research program will analyze the interdisciplinary contours of Black Studies and the emergence of ecological and aesthetic themes in this field. Theorizing interdisciplinarity as a decolonial epistemology and methodology, the project uniquely decenters self-identity and emphasizes collaborative and creative knowledge-making as entwined with physiography. Specifically, drawing out and employing methodologies in Black Studies will uncover a sustained engagement with how the racial dimensions of climate catastrophe are creatively theorized in black communities.

Caroline PukallCaroline Pukall (Psychology), CRC in Sexual Health, Tier 1 (CIHR)

Genitopelvic pain affects one in five people, negatively impacting their sexuality, mental health, and quality of life. Dr. Pukall will reposition her work by focusing on genitopelvic pain in sexually- and gender diverse populations, significantly expanding the narrow lens inherent in the field by conducting an inclusive, online, longitudinal survey to establish key knowledge about pain and sexuality experiences, developing an effective pain management program that espouses diversity, and applying a multimethod framework to investigate the sensory and vascular correlates of pain.

Kimberly Dunham-SnaryKimberly Dunham-Snary (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), CRC in Mitochondrial and Metabolic Regulation in Health and Disease, Tier 2 (CIHR)

Dr. Dunham-Snary wants improve care for patients with cardiometabolic diseases (CMDs), including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension (high blood pressure) by identifying a ‘fingerprint’ for CMD to enable early intervention for sub-populations at risk. CMDs are metabolic diseases associated with dysfunctional mitochondria (the energy powerhouse of the cell). She will will explore how mitochondrial structure and genetics alter the body’s cell signaling switchboard, causing cell growth, inflammation, and other issues leading to CMD. 

Ying ZouYing Zou (Electrical and Computer Engineering), CRC in Software Evolution, Tier 1 (NSERC)

We rely on software applications to pay our bills, to shop, and to stream videos online. Their quality is critical and cannot be compromised by their ever-increasing user base and programming complexity. Dr. Zou’s research program will develop leading-edge methods and tools in software analytics and apply machine learning techniques to build smart infrastructure that can provide intelligent support for software development and evolution, leading to a substantial improvement in software engineering practices with respect to the quality and cost-effective development and evolution of reliable software applications.

Mark DaymondMark Daymond (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), CRC in Mechanics of Materials, Tier 1 (NSERC)

Understanding how materials deform and fail is crucial in many applications, as we try and design components. For example maximizing the lifetime of power plant components, or minimizing the weight of automotive components, with resultant fuel savings.  Practical engineering materials like metals are complex, inhomogeneous collections of crystals or grains. These grains have different behaviours dependent on orientation and surroundings. Dr. Daymond’s program investigates the influence of such local inhomogeneity and the resulting internal stress on materials' deformation as well as the processes occurring under stress and temperature fluctuations. One particular are of interest is the impact of radiation on local scale phenomena. The research will define deformation mechanisms that drive development of practical engineering techniques and component design.

Alan Jeffrey GiacominAlan Jeffrey Giacomin (Chemical Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy), CRC in Physics of Fluids, Tier 1 (NSERC)

Dr. Giacomin will extend and advance his world-leading studies in rheology to embrace more broadly the physics of fluids, uncovering the physics underlying the flow of matter. Anticipated accomplishments with his team of highly-qualified graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will include predicting nonlinear rheological responses for any macromolecular shape; revealing how macromolecular structure affects polymer processing; and pioneering how the coronavirus spiked structure and its bulbous spike shapes determine the transport properties governing cell binding and infection.

Queen's is currently recruiting a number of new CRC positions in cutting-edge research areas, for more information, visit the Canada Research Chairs recruitment page on the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) Portfolio website.  To find out more about existing CRCs at Queen's, visit the Canada Research Chairs at Queen’s University.

Guatemala: 25 years later, ‘firm and lasting peace’ is nowhere to be found

A person hold the flag of Guatemala
Guatemala marked the 25th anniversary of a peace accord that ended the country's 36-year long civil war on Dec. 29. (Unsplash/Shalom de Leon)

Dec. 29 marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of a peace accord that effectively brought 36 years of armed conflict in Guatemala to an end. When what’s known as the Firm and Lasting Peace Accord was signed, the Guatemalan Civil War was one of the longest, bloodiest conflicts in 20th-century Latin America.

A quarter century later, the peace that was supposed to be “firm and lasting” is anything but. If any peace prevails in Guatemala, it is a peace resembling war.

As a researcher with long-standing interests in the historical geography of Latin America, I have studied Guatemala for many years. A 2019 memoir I wrote revisits the impact of Guatemala’s military-dominated state on its Indigenous Maya Peoples.

A legacy of violence

More than 80 per cent of the civil war casualties were unarmed Indigenous Mayas. A United Nations-backed commission charged the Guatemalan military forces with genocide and held them responsible for 93 per cent of the killings. Guerrilla insurgents, fighting to overthrow the regime, were attributed three per cent of the atrocities.

American anthropologist Victoria Sanford summed up the dire situation following the war this way: if the number of victims kept rising, “more people will die in the first 25 years of peace” than during the country’s brutal civil war, which a UN inquiry documented at more than 200,000.

Sanford’s grim reckoning is manifested in Guatemalan homicide rates. In 2009, murders amounted to a staggering 45 for every 100,000 inhabitants. By comparison, Canada’s homicide rate was 1.95 per 100,000 people in 2020, and in the United States it was 7.8.

Most violent deaths in Guatemala are never investigated, let alone brought before the courts. The cause of most deaths is no longer overtly political in nature, but instead related to gang violence, drug trafficking, extortion rackets, fraudulent dealings and the settling of age-old scores.

During some of the post-accord years — in 2006 for example — there were as many as 500 murders, amounting to 17 a day.

Neoliberalism and massive inequality

Álvaro Arzú was the president of Guatemala when the peace accord was signed in 1996. Although he was one of the officials who signed it, three years later he refused to acknowledge that the atrocities committed during the conflict actually occurred — at least not to the extent alleged, and not by the Guatemalan army.

Under his neoliberal policies, not only did widespread poverty and massive inequality — the primary reasons for confrontation in the first place — remain unaddressed, but they actually increased.

In 1999, the findings of a UN survey of human development ranked Guatemala 117th globally in terms of quality of life, well behind Central American neighbour Costa Rica (ranked 45th) and trailing two others known to be desperately poor, El Salvador (107th) and Honduras (114th).

Over-exploited, not under-developed

Guatemala is not an under-developed country. On the contrary, Guatemala is a country rich in resources, natural and human. But it has been crippled by the distribution of its resources, especially land, and is rife with inequality.

Unequal land distribution lies at the heart of Guatemala’s problems. The country is still strikingly rural, with the lives of thousands of low-income families and those of a privileged few connected by the politics of land ownership.

In Guatemala, 90 per cent of farms account for 16 per cent of total farm area, while two per cent of the total number of farms occupy 65 per cent of total farmland. The best land is used to grow coffee, cotton, bananas and sugar cane for export, not to feed malnourished local populations. Until this imbalance is redressed, problems will endure.

Corrupt leadership

Five presidents who succeeded Arzú all promised economic and social improvement, especially for the 85 per cent of their 17 million citizens deemed by the UN to live in poverty — 70 per cent of them in a state of extreme poverty. None has done any better than Arzú.

Mired by charges of corruption, two former presidents (Alfonso Portillo and Álvaro Colom) were imprisoned after leaving office. Another, Otto Pérez Molina, was removed from office and jailed for accepting bribes so businesses could avoid paying import duties.

An International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was established in 2006 to investigate virulent wrongdoing. The UN-backed CICIG dismantled 60 criminal bands and prosecuted 680 prominent individuals for corrupt activities. In 2019, however, its mandate was revoked and its officers banished by then-president Jimmy Morales.

‘Witch hunt’

Current president Alejandro Giammattei operates similarly to his predecessors. He dismissed anti-corruption prosecutors brave enough to hold tax evaders and money launderers to account.

Giammattei asserts that anti-corruption initiatives have become a witch hunt in which left-leaning lawyers — like judge Juan Francisco Sandoval, who served as Head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity — vilify those on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

“Everybody has a right to their own ideology,” Giammattei said in a recent media interview. “The problem is when you transfer that ideology to your actions, and worse when you are in charge of justice.”

After being relieved of their duties, Sandoval and other prosecutors fled the country, fearing for their safety. United States President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed concern over corruption in Central America, linking it to the despair Guatemalans feel about how they are governed and prompting many to seek a better life in El Norte (North America).

In the past year alone, 280,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended by American border officials in failed attempts to enter the U.S. from Mexico, their journey north fraught with danger.

As 2021 drew to a close, given the precarious manner in which Guatemala continues to be governed, the 25th anniversary of the signing of its peace accord was no cause for celebration.The Conversation


W. George Lovell, Professor, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.


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