Author Archives: Kristy Bard

Kristin Bright Helps Design Breast Cancer Information Tool

Photo of Kristin Bright

Kristin Bright, assistant professor, teaching stream, at U of T’s Department of Anthropology. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

The following article was posted on Arts & Science News and can also be read at

Breast cancer “decision tree” helps women navigate treatment options

“There is no other tool like this anywhere in North America”

A free information tool largely designed by breast cancer survivors and a University of Toronto medical anthropologist is now available online to explain treatment options for the most common form of cancer in women.

Breast cancer “decision trees” that map out the treatment options for every form of the disease are a key feature of the Be The Choice website, which also includes plain language explanations of medical terminology and the various types of the cancer.

“There is no other tool like this anywhere in North America,” says Kristin Bright, assistant professor, teaching stream, at U of T’s Department of Anthropology.

“Everything from the language and graphics to the colours and fonts is informed by patients and survivors.”

Helping patients understand their disease and consider their options

Screengrab of website

The website also includes plain language explanations of medical terminology and the various types of the cancer.

With many patients facing surgical treatment within a few weeks of diagnosis, the site is meant to help them understand their disease and consider their options.

“A lot of people leave their doctor’s office feeling they either got too much information or too little, and they’ve heard medical terms that haven’t been explained,” says Bright, who was at the New York University School of Medicine and Perlmutter Cancer Center before joining U of T.

“When they go into the decision tree, they’ll see a short description, and then they can choose to read more. It’s sort of an iterative design, so you’re not getting too much information at once.”

While the type of breast cancer may dictate certain procedures that must be followed quickly, there will also be decisions the patient has to make, notes Bright.

These include choosing radiation or chemo treatment before or after surgery, and whether to have immediate breast reconstruction or to wait until later.

Designed to empower and spread cancer health literacy

The tool is not intended to be used in isolation but to empower the patient to discuss the information and options with their care providers. Bright says the designers anticipate that at the very least, the site will reduce anxiety and improve communication.

It’s also an important education tool for spreading cancer health literacy.

“In a very diverse population like Toronto, that’s important, because people might have pre-existing ideas or concepts of what a tumor might be.”

Bright recalls a patient she interviewed while in New York who was from Haiti. The woman put off surgery for two years because, like many in her community, she thought the lump in her breast was caused by menopausal blood that would dissipate.

The site is accessible on any browser or mobile device and is still in the testing phase. Bright and a team of advisors and clinicians have been working on the site for two years, and they hope to gather more feedback from visitors that they can incorporate prior to its official launch in June 2017.

The text is written in Eighth Grade English, and it will be translated for a French-language mirror site before the official launch.

Site to grow and develop

As the site grows and develops over time, the designers hope to add information about post-treatment care, survivorship resources, and complementary and alternative care, such as acupuncture, massage and meditation.

Bright also harbours ambitions the site could eventually contribute to existing patient advocacy movements to improve care in underserved areas by raising awareness.

Start-up funding has come from a grant from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). That money will take them through the launch next year, and then they will be looking for additional funders.

“We’re hoping to spread the word so that people can see that this is often a manageable disease, and there is life after breast cancer,” says Bright.

“I also hope that this tool will help people understand they need to continue monitoring their health, even after treatment.”

Anna-Louise Crago Receives Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case

photo of Anna-Louise Crago

Anna-Louise Crago

Congratulations to PhD Candidate Anna Louise-Crago! She is one of six recipients of the 2016 Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case, which honours Canadians who advance gender equality. Anna-Louise was chosen because of her two decades of work as a human rights advocate, social service-provider and researcher alongside, and as part of, sex worker and street-involved communities. Learn more about the other recipients at

Below is more on why Anna-Louise is so deserving of this award!


Anna-Louise Crago is dedicated to following an inclusive path toward building gender equality, with courage and integrity, in Canada and abroad. Currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, she brings her lived experience in sex work to her studies in anthropology and ground-breaking human-rights initiatives. For two decades, she has been a human rights advocate, social service-provider and researcher alongside, and as part of, sex worker and street-involved communities. At Stella, Montréal’s centre for and by sex workers, Ms. Crago served as coordinator of health and social services. Along with her colleagues at Stella, she was co-recipient of the AIDS Action Award in 2006, given by Human Rights Watch. Ms. Crago has worked with sex workers in over 25 countries in many regions to document the human rights violations they face. She was lead author of a report on violence against sex workers by state-actors in Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia that Human Rights Watch called “ground breaking research” that should serve as a “catalyst to the human rights community.” In 2013, she received the prestigious Trudeau Doctoral Scholar Award from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, to pursue research on sex workers’ experience during armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ms. Crago has been influential in advancing policies on a global level that are key in changing country-level approaches to the HIV epidemic to include thousands of sex workers in access to prevention and treatment while addressing violence against sex workers and the harms of criminalization.

Susan Pfeiffer to Receive J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal

Photo of Prof. Susan PfeifferCongratulations to Prof. Susan Pfeiffer! On November 5 she was the first woman to ever be presented with the J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal at the OAS Annual Awards Banquet. The J. Norman Emerson Silver Medal is awarded on occasion to an outstanding Ontario non-professional archaeologist whose life’s work has been consistently of the highest standard, who has made an exceptional contribution to the development of Ontario archaeology and who has earned acclaim for excellence and achievement.

2016-17 Development Seminar Series

Click here to view the Development Seminar Series poster for the 2016-17 academic year.

Upcoming events are also listed below.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Prof. Tania Li (Anthropology, U of T)
After the land grab: Infrastructural violence and the mafia system in Indonesia’s oil palm plantation zone
Development Seminar co-sponsored by  the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies and the  Munk School of Global Affairs.
12:00-2:00pm, AP 246, 19 Russell St. Register here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Profs. Nancy Cook and David Butz (Sociology & Geography, Brock University)
Development Seminar, 12:00-2:00pm, AP 246, 19 Russell St. Register here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Prof. Joshua Barker (Anthropology, U of T)
Development Seminar, 12:00-2:00pm, AP 246, 19 Russell St. Register here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Prof. Marion Traub-Werner (Geography, University of Buffalo)
Development Seminar co-sponsored by Geography Intersection Series
3:00-5:00pm, SS2125, 100 St. George St. Register here.

Friday, February, 10, 2017

Prof. Alison Mountz (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Development Seminar co-sponsored by Geography Intersection Series
3:00-5:00pm, SS2125, 100 St. George St. Register here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Prof. Emily Yeh (Geography, University of Colorado)
Development Seminar, 3:00-5:00pm, SS 5017A, 100 St. George St. Register here.

Friday, March 17, 2016

Prof. Kanta Murali (Political Science, University of Toronto)
Development Seminar, 12:00-2:00pm, Location TBA

Friday, March 31, 2017

Prof. Nancy Peluso (UC Berkeley)
Development Seminar co-sponsored by Centre for Southeast Asian Studies,
Munk School of Global Affairs
12:30-2:30pm, AP 246, 19 Russell St. Register here.

Prof. Naisargi Dave Named to Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

The following U of T News article by Jennifer Robinson is also available at

Top emerging U of T scholars joining Royal Society of Canada’s new college

A physical therapist involved in treating children with disabilities and an anthropologist studying animal activism may not seem to have much in common.

But at the heart of their research is a desire to change perceptions, to deepen discourse and disrupt or expand outmoded ways of thinking.

Today, physical therapist and bioethicist Barbara Gibson and anthropologist Naisargi Dave were among six U of T scholars named by the Royal Society of Canada as members of its College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. See the full list of recipients below.

In 2014, the society decided it needed to create a special college to recognize and foster scholarly leadership and interdisciplinary collaboration among Canada’s “new” generation of scholars, artists and scientists who’ve received their PhD within the last 15 years.

“It means a lot to be a part of it,” said Dave, who is hoping to finish writing her second book this academic year. “I was especially honoured that my senior colleagues sought fit to nominate me for this award.”

“I’m really excited about it. It’s a great honour,” added Gibson.

“The Royal Society of Canada is to be commended for their decision to recognize and support the work of Canada’s emerging scholars,” said Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation. “We’re extremely proud of U of T’s newest members of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists and look forward to seeing new collaborations and more exciting work from them as a result.”

Since publishing a book on queer activism in India, Dave (left, photo by Wan Park) has turned her attentions to animal-human relationships in the second most populous country in the world. Her research is challenging the commonly held notion that only upper class Westerners are concerned with animal welfare.

She’s also exploring how clashes between what are seen as normative actions (which value consistency and placing issues in context as “good”) and non-normative actions (contradictions) play out in the animal rights activism sphere.

An example, she said, is how a vegetarian or vegan is often questioned about the contradictions in their conduct, e.g. not eating animals but wearing leather shoes. But “normative values rarely need to account for or explain themselves.”

In Gibson’s case, she’s pushing rehabilitation to expand its thinking beyond the confines of biomedicine to include newer areas of research that see disability less as a medical problem to solve and more of a social problem to tackle, e.g., I am disabled by my society, not by my body.

“Rehabilitation is kind of oblivious to this… What I’m interested in is how do we think, talk and add this to the discussion on everyday practice in rehabilitation?” said Gibson, a U of T associate professor and senior scientist at Bloorview Research Institute at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital where she directs the Critical Disability and Rehabilitation Studies unit.

Medical professionals can now predict with fairly good accuracy the likelihood of an individual child with cerebral palsy learning how to walk. “But parents are very hopeful and we don’t want to destroy that hope,” she said, even when the odds are not in their children’s favour.

As part of her research, Gibson has interviewed young people with cerebral palsy, aged eight to 19, to hear first-hand how they view their experiences in rehabilitation.

Some recall the time spent with their physical therapists as positive, such as using video games to encourage them to develop the use of their “bad” arm. While other “children are resentful” when they look back, she explained. Time in rehabilitation was painful and took time away from being in class and playing with friends. In some cases, they didn’t mind being in a wheelchair.

“I’m not saying don’t do it [rehabilitation],” Gibson said. “What I’m trying to do is encourage clinicians to think about treatment more broadly and have these conversations with parents and kids.”

The six 2016 U of T members of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists are:

Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

  • Hani Naguib, department of mechanical and industrial engineering

Faculty of Arts & Science

  • Naisargi Dave, department of anthropology
  • Stephen I. Wright, department of ecology and evolutionary biology

Faculty of Medicine

  • Barbara Gibson, department of physical therapy and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital
  • Wolfgang Kuebler, department of surgery and St. Michael’s Hospital
  • Sharon Elizabeth Straus, department of medicine and St. Michael’s Hospital

From hip-hop to handshakes, Prof. Sarah Hillewaert studies youth culture in Kenya

Sarah Hillewaert sitting on a bench

Sarah Hillewaert lived in Lamu for three years, documenting how Lamu’s young people are responding to the economic, political and cultural changes in their community (photo by Blake Eligh)

The following U of T News article by Blake Eligh can also be read at

From a secret language that parents don’t understand to the complexities of a not-so-simple handshake, U of T Mississauga anthropologist Sarah Hillewaert studies how young Kenyans negotiate the interaction between traditional and global cultures.

The Belgian anthropologist originally considered becoming a professional dancer, but her training with African dances led instead to an undergraduate degree studying African languages and cultures at Belgium’s Ghent University.

A backpacking trip to Kenya to practice Swahili introduced her to Sheng, a youth language that developed in the slums of Nairobi. Hillewaert was intrigued by the way the language, spoken mainly by young Kenyans, crossed ethnic and economic barriers. “I researched the development of Sheng—how it is used and its linguistic structure,” she says. “I also looked at how Sheng was used in underground hip-hop and how it became an identity marker for urban youth. Sheng represented a new identity that moved away from ethnic stereotypes and crossed ethnic lines.”

Hillewaert, who speaks five languages, went on to earn her master’s degree and PhD in linguistics and anthropology at the University of Michigan. Now an assistant professor with UTM’s Department of Anthropology, Hillewaert has become an authority on youth cultures in Kenya.

Her most recent research focuses on youth culture in Lamu, a town of about 10,000 people on an island of the same name just off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. Hillewaert describes the Muslim community as an “island paradise” with white sand beaches and architecture that dates back to the 1500s. “Lamu was once a prosperous trade centre, trading with the Arab world and India, but in the last few decades, the island’s economy has fallen on hard times,” she says. “The community is very poor. Beautiful mansions are now crumbling because no one has money to look after them, so ex-pats buy the houses, which is turning the area into a haven for Westerners.”

Hillewaert lived in Lamu for three years, documenting how Lamu’s young people are responding to the economic, political and cultural changes in their community. Two generations ago, their conservative Muslim grandmothers lived in total seclusion, Hillewaert says, and many observant women still wear niqabs or cover their faces with a veil, known locally as a buibui, when out in public spaces. But as the younger generation tries to build a future in Lamu, they must interact in new ways with westerners as they take jobs in traditional offices and in the growing tourism trade.

Girls studying in a madrasa in Lamu, Kenya.

Girls studying in a madrasa in Lamu, Kenya. (Photo by Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“That contrast fascinates me,” Hillewaert says. “For young women, integration in the employment and education arena is quite recent. They want to contribute financially, but that exposes them to new social interactions, such as working with men,” she says. “Their grandmothers lived in seclusion, and their mothers were also segregated. How do these young women maintain respectability for themselves, and with their family, while at the same time do their job well? They are trying to negotiate that.”

Hillewaert details some of these complex interactions in her recent paper, which describes the intricate semiotics of a simple handshake in Lamu. “How a young woman interacts with people in the office can become the subject of gossip to her community outside of work,” Hillewaert says. “Do you shake hands? You’re not supposed to touch members of the opposite gender, but in a professional work environment, one shakes hands.”

Another recent publication looks at cultural notions of morality and servitude and what those assumptions mean for young Muslim men working in Lamu’s tourism industry as sailors and ‘beach boys.’

“Lamu’s young people are consciously contemplating different aspects of their identity, like religion, fashion choices, employment and relationships with their parents, while being concerned with what it means to be a virtuous person in a rapidly changing society,” Hillewaert says. “It’s exciting to show how they are dealing with very complex issues and dilemmas, as other young people do around the world. Their struggles are recognizable and yet very different.”