Features

Highlights include two nominations for nationwide student journalism awards. Image: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum

The Fulcrum’s features section is a place for investigation, introspection, and intelligent debate, and it has grown a lot over the past decade. The stories within it showcase a dedication to leaving no stone unturned and have prompted conversations on a variety of contentious topics.

We’ve compiled here the best that the features section has offered in the past decade — enjoy this trip down memory lane.

The Gridiron Closet, Darren Sharp, 2012

In this piece, Fulcrum contributor Darren Sharp peeled back the stereotypes and assumptions that accompany university athletics to shine a light on the encouragingly positive developments toward acceptance of homosexuality in sports.

His article drew from the experiences of athletes at several universities, from a Queen’s volleyball player who came out to his team to an American linebacker who was publicly removed from his team after being spotted with his boyfriend. 

He sat down face to face with a closeted bisexual football player at an unnamed Canadian university — he referred to him by a pseudonym, John —  and the conversation was refreshingly open. 

“I’m new at this too, but slowly I’m telling more people,” John told Sharp. “I think that at some point I’ll have to tell everybody. It’s not like a, ‘Hey, I’m bi!’ It’s more like, ‘Yeah, I’m bi. Sure, let’s talk about it.’ ”

Like all sweeping social changes, experts shared with Sharp that the centralization of power in sports — much like in the military, or in prison — meant that the process of achieving widespread acceptance would be a gradual one. However Sharp explored prejudice and hardship without losing focus on improvements and kindness as well.

“When the interview ends, we shake hands, and John walks out as confidently as he walked in,” wrote Sharp. “After the door closes, I stay sitting down, stunned. How has a strapping, ferocious football player who is also bisexual been able to reconcile those two aspects of himself amid the immense pressure that sport places on him to be a certain type of man?” 

The article reads as thoughtful, informed and encouraging, and serves to start the decade off strong.

Me, my mom, and Alzheimer’s, Joanne Cave, 2012

Later that same year, Fulcrum contributor Joanne Cave told the story of her own complicated home life across 2,000 words. When studying at the University of Toronto, her life took a series of unfortunate turns across the same school term. Of all the many misfortunes that struck her across those few months — she notes a breakup and eviction, for example — the most shocking was her mother’s development of early-onset Alzheimer’s, which turned her life upside down.

Cave lets readers into the world of young caregivers, a world that is often left concealed. 

“It is a difficult compromise: my sense of independence and newfound adulthood versus my growing sense of obligation to be my mom’s informal caregiver,” she writes.

Other students her age were picking master’s programs based on exotic destinations and planning trips abroad, but Cave was facing an overwhelming sense of guilt being away from her family home in Edmonton. Suddenly, her choices were not just her own.

As her mother’s condition deteriorated, their relationship was redefined.

“The depth of our conversations has changed dramatically since she first started showing signs of Alzheimer’s,” wrote Cave. “Our chats are often quite circular, with my mom repeating thoughts and stories multiple times. My dad and I talk politics; my mom and I talk about the weather.”

She encapsulated a story that is common but often remains unsaid. In 2011, Cave observed that family caregivers in Canada spent 444 million unpaid hours caring for loved ones with dementia. As the population continues to age, that number is likely growing, and Cave’s story becomes even more poignant.

Invisible professors, Jesse Colautti and Thomas Swerdfager, 2014

In 2014, Jesse Colautti and Thomas Swerdfager were nominated for a nation-wide student journalism award by the Canadian University Press for their work here, exposing the hardships of part-time professors at the U of O and across the province.

They exposed a disregard — or at the very least, a misunderstanding — on behalf of the university’s administration when it comes to the experiences of their part-time staff. 

A visual arts professor with a PhD told Colautti and Swerdfager that a doctorate is actually required for many part-time positions, and described the system as “naturalizing professional inequities and exploitation.” 

The acting associate vice-president of faculty affairs at the time, Jules Carrière, disputed this claim and insisted that most part-time professors did not rely on their teaching work to make ends meet. But it was backed up by the president of the Association of Part-Time Professors at the U of O, Robert Johnson.

“In many, many departments, and certainly in the faculties of arts and social sciences, where probably the bulk of the teaching is being done, these are people for whom this is a full-time gig,” he told them.

Colautti and Swerdfager went on to illustrate the many ways this is detrimental to both students and staff, including the inability to hold regular office hours. Their dedicated investigation earned them national attention as well as a spot on this list.

No country for young Deepan, Kyle Darbyson, 2015

In 2015, former Fulcrum features editor Kyle Darbyson sat down with Deepan Budlakoti on the steps of the parliament building to discuss his unique story. A petty criminal, Budlakoti had his citizenship stripped from him under the jurisdiction of controversial Conservative bills in 2010 and had been left stateless ever since.

“As Indian immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1985, they worked as household staff for the Ambassador of India leading up to their son’s birth,” writes Darbyson of Budlakoti’s parents. “While federal law automatically grants citizenship to those who are born on Canadian soil, the same doesn’t apply to diplomatic staff or their children.”

After he was incarcerated, his passport and Canadian birth certificate were declared null and the Canadian government issued an order for Budlakoti’s deportation to India, despite the fact that he had never been. To make matters worse, India expressed no interest in granting him citizenship either.

“Canada is supposed to be the most humane country in the world, and welcoming to immigrants and so forth, right?” Budlakoti said to Darbyson. “But yet we have this Conservative government that’s destroying that policy completely. We lost a seat in the UN. Deportations have increased tremendously. Longer detentions have even commenced (for refugees).”

Indeed, Budlakoti’s story invokes questions about the nature of Canada, revealing a prioritization of politics over people and a surprisingly salient xenophobic presence in policy. Professor Joel Westheimer told Darbyson these sentiments were products of 9/11, and four years later, they remain a potent force in political discourse today. 

A tough pill to swallow, Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi, 2016

Canada has a complicated history with the topic of abortion. The story only got more convoluted when the Canadian government tentatively approved abortion medication mifepristone in 2015, but bound its usage by strict regulations.

“The World Health Organization lists it as an ‘essential medicine,’ a minimum medicine needed for basic health-care systems, based on criteria such as safety and cost-effectiveness,” wrote El-Bouzaidi.

“However, with one of the lengthiest approval processes in Health Canada’s history, and an extensive list of regulations that experts are calling into question, many are pessimistic about whether Mifegymiso will actually increase access to abortion in Canada.”

Geographic scale, socioeconomic inequality, and medically unserviced areas are just a few of the obstacles that stood in the way of increasing access to abortion services, according to El-Bouzaidi. 

These are compounded by slow progress in parliaments across the country: Quebec, for example, did not fully fund abortion clinics until 2008, although a 1984 Canada Health Act requires provinces to fund abortion clinics.  

The article reveals several systemic sources of blockades to abortion access on behalf of Canada’s federal and provincial governments. For example, among the conditions of the drug’s approval was that it be administered up to 49 days after a woman’s last menses. Yet other countries who employ the drug administer it for up to 10 weeks.

“We have an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that mifepristone can be used effectively through 70 days gestation,” Angel Foster, a University of Ottawa professor in the faculty of health sciences, told El-Bouzaidi. “The gestational age limit is actually a major impediment to being able to expand access.”

A country that is supposedly a frontrunner in terms of providing women’s rights, Canada’s relationship to abortion is troubling. Today, the drug is widely accepted, but El-Bouzaidi showcases how the turbulent process of authorizing it reveals the continued presence of stigma regarding abortion on a fundamental level and deeper demographic issues that hinder accessibility.

Redefining touch, Kyle Darbyson, 2016

Kyle Darbyon makes the list for a second time with an intriguing feature on the bizarre, fascinating, and sweet world of professional cuddling. 

Darbyson paid for a 30-minute cuddle session himself, during which he and Rachel Malloy, a professional cuddler, tried out several positions, “including the “68 1/2” and something called “cherry popsicles.” Malloy was employed by the Cuddlery, a non-sexual touching service that was started by U of O alum Marylen Reid.

“All my life I’ve been told that this kind of intimate contact should be reserved for family members and sexual partners only,” wrote Darbyson. “But should it be? Organizations like the Cuddlery are out to challenge that assumption through their business model, which is predicated on the idea that platonic intimacy is something that can be shared between complete strangers.”

Darbyson reveals that the medical benefits of physical touch are empirically verified. 

“Cuddling releases oxytocin in the brain,” Reid, told him. “So it has been proven that cuddling is fostering well-being.”

Through the lens of the cuddling industry, Darbyson explores themes that are much more serious than cherry popsicles. The rise of technology as a daily part of human life, Western individualism that may lead to isolation, the perception of sex workers and the gender divide are all explored across the article. 

The piece culminates with a thoughtful quote from the Cuddlery founder Reid: “I think that with my job I (finally) understood the meaning of intimacy, and it’s not sharing your life with someone as girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s willing to be honest and vulnerable with someone.”

Mariano De Marinis convicted of sexual assault, yet still employed by Kavali nightclub, Savannah Awde, 2018

In a particularly distressing piece about a sexual assault convict at a Byward nightclub, Savannah Awde asks whether or not the #MeToo movement that dominated popular discourse in 2018 had accomplished as much as it seems.

Awde conducted a social experiment of her own by carrying a sign to inform club-goers of Kavali’s employment of Mariano de Marinis, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an employee on the premises during her training. 

She records the reactions of club-goers, staff, and police officers throughout the article, and their opinions are varied and often surprising.

“Google how much of a slut this fucking girl is,” one girl in the lineup shouted angrily during an exchange with Awde. 

It is reactions like these — and of bar staff to the concerns of the other girls who described their assault stories to Awde — that made her wonder if the movement that is so often described as a willful targeting of powerful men has actually gone far enough.

A read that exposes the persistence of rape culture to a shocking extent, it is one of the best, most tragic, and most current stories of the features section’s last ten years.

Inside the Heron Gate eviction, Matt Gergyek, 2018

When real estate giant Timbercreek Asset Management gave its tenants 120 days notice to leave the Heron Gate community, it sparked a conflict rife with complex socioeconomic dynamics. The questionable ethics of the eviction garnered attention from the Globe and Mail and the Huffington Post, and the Fulcrum as well.

“We talk about Canada being a first world country but now people aren’t going to have housing by the end of September and that’s absolutely horrifying,” Heron Gate Tenant Coalition (HTC) organizer Mumina Egal told Gergyek. “Whether people decide to stay in the neighbourhood or not, we’re going to fight this.”

In 2018, the housing market in Ottawa was hostile, to say the least. The vacancy rate was at a measly 1.7 per cent, the lowest it had been since 2011. Rent had gone up 25 per cent between 2005 and 2015 as well, leaving renters in a tough position.

Timbercreek maintained that its residents had a right to return to their units when the new housing had been built, but there was no clear information as to when that would be — or how much that may cost.

“The accommodation request is that they have the right to return to their units to similarly priced units, because if they charge the market rent they’ll probably be priced out of the region,” lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons told Gergyek. “There’s never been a case quite like this before … that’s the biggest challenge.”

Gergyek was nominated for a feature writing award by the Canadian University Press last year for this piece, and its overall quality lands it near the top of the decade’s work.

Fall from grace at Bell High School, Keelan Buck, 2019

Contributor Keelan Buck accomplished a similar humanization of a national story with his exploration of sexual assault and its lingering effects on students at Ottawa’s Bell High School — of which he is an alumnus. 

A disturbing pattern was unearthed at the school in 2019, one in which several teachers were found to have sexually assaulted students between the 1970s and today. In light of Buck’s own connection to the school, he explored how present and past students felt about it as its reputation was dramatically altered.

“Those were safe spots for me,” Yasmin Rezaaifar, a U of O student and Bell alum, told Buck. “Part of me thought that the way they were showing it was a bit ridiculous … at night, empty, just to add to that ominous feel. I think, if anything, what makes it so scary is that it happened in such a safe environment.”

These sentiments were echoed throughout. Like Awde’s piece, the shadow of the #MeToo movement falls heavily over Buck’s words. 

“Teachers are placed in positions of trust and responsibility over young people, who have varying degrees of confidence, maturity, and power,” he writes. “This dynamic seems inherent in our education system. So, what can be done to prevent abuse?”

He emphasizes the importance of discourse, and the words of the alumni he interviewed echo the sentiment that although the news is disturbing, they hope it will help prevent patterns of abuse from resurfacing. 

A common theme in Fulcrum features, Buck takes a daunting topic and makes it accessible to students and lends it a special emotional resonance. The most recent of the decade’s finest, he ends the highlight reel on a high note.