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The 2020-2021 York Circle @ Home Lecture Series

Hosted by Dr. Rebecca Pillai Riddell, Academic Chair of The York Circle, this virtual lecture series will showcase York's leading faculty members—from policy makers to molecular scientists—to engage in lively panel discussions and Q&A sessions on key themes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The series will be held over four sessions throughout the year.

The first 200 people to register for three or more York Circle @ Home virtual sessions will:

  • Receive a complimentary York University coffee mug¥
  • Become a member of The York Circle
  • Be entered for a chance to win 1 of 4 $25 gift cards per session, made possible by MBNA Rewards® Platinum Plus® Mastercard®*

Registration is required. You can register now by using the buttons below for each session. We'll send you a reminder closer to the event date.

¥ Complimentary York University mugs will be reserved for the first 200 people who register for and attend three or more York Circle @ Home sessions, while quantities last; mugs to be delivered in spring 2021.
* Prizing provided courtesy of MBNA Rewards® Platinum Plus® Mastercard®.

Panel 1: At home and in school: Supporting children, youth and the adults who care for them during a pandemic

Date: Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020 | 10-11:30am ET 

During these unprecedented times, politicians, parents, health professionals and educators are struggling to determine what is best for students heading back to school this fall, whether that’s virtually or in person. In this timely panel session, York University experts will discuss the economic, social, and practical impacts of the pandemic on children, parents and educators in relation to inequities in the current education system. Dr. Gillian Parekh, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, will explore tensions around education and care for students with disabilities; Dr. Vidya Shah, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, will offer ideas for providing learning engagements focused on relationality, as well as community and critical consciousness; and Dr. Stephen Gaetz, Professor in the Faculty of Education, will speak to the problem of supporting youth experiencing homelessness or who are precariously housed during the pandemic.

Dr. Stephen Gaetz

Professor, Faculty of Education, President, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, and Scientific Director of Making the Shift (Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab)

Dr. Stephen Gaetz is a Professor in the Faculty of Education and leading scholar on homelessness. He focuses his efforts on working in collaboration with partners to conduct research that will guide and inform solutions to homelessness. Dr. Gaetz has played a leading international role in knowledge mobilization and homelessness research through the Homeless Hub. In 2017, he was awarded the Member of the Order of Canada.

Dr. Gillian Parekh

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Canada Research Chair in Inclusion, Disability and Education

Dr. Gillian Parekh is an Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Inclusion, Disability and Education (Tier 2) within the Faculty of Education at York. As a previous teacher in special education and research coordinator with the Toronto District School Board, Dr. Parekh has conducted extensive system and school-based research in Toronto in the areas of structural equity, special education, and academic streaming. In particular, her work explores how schools construct and respond to disability, as well as how students are organized across programs and systems.

Dr. Vidya Shah

Assistant Professor, Leadership and Education, Faculty of Education

Dr. Vidya Shah is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University and teaches in the Master of Leadership and Community Engagement and Initial Teacher Education Programs. She received her Doctorate in Educational Administration from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and her research explores the contributing factors to district reform for equity. Dr. Shah has worked in the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program in the Toronto District School Board and was a primary, junior and intermediate teacher in the TDSB.

Panel 2: COVID-19 vaccine: Production, policy, politics

Date: Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 | 10-11:30am ET 

Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the global race for a vaccine wages on. In this relevant panel discussion, infectious disease, immunology and health policy experts will explore the sociological and scientific implications of securing a safe and accessible vaccine. Dr. Gillian Wu, an immunologist and retired professor, and Vivian Saridakis, Associate Professor, Biology, will address pressing questions on virus spread, global measures to contain infections, as well as what to expect in subsequent waves. Dr. A.M. Viens, Associate Professor of Global Health Policy and Director of the School of Global Health, will speak to the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, and explore the ethical challenge of how countries should buy and fairly distribute it; and Dr. Harris Ali, a sociologist at York, will discuss the anti-vax movement and the influence this may have on the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine once developed.   

Dr. Harris Ali

Professor, Department of Sociology, LA&PS 

Dr.  Harris Ali is a sociologist who studies the social and political dimensions of disease outbreaks. He has conducted studies on different types of infectious disease outbreaks in various parts of the world, including the outbreak of waterborne E. Coli in the rural community of Walkerton, Ont., and the community-based responses to Ebola during the 2014-15 outbreaks in West Africa, and the recent outbreaks in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is currently a co-principal investigator on a CIHR grant dealing with the role of social media in flaming and countering anti-Asian racism during the present COVID-19 response. 

Dr. Gillian Wu

Professor Emeritus, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health 

Gillian E Wu is Professor Emerita and Scholar of Kinesiology and Health Science, Faculty of Health, at York University and Professor Emerita of the Department of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. She was educated at McMaster (BScHons) and the University of Toronto (MSc and PhD, Medical Biophysics).  Her research focuses on the generation of immune diversity especially as it pertains to the genetics of human immune based diseases including autoimmunity, immunodeficiencies, and recently, COVID-19.  She has over peer reviewed 110 publications.  She is the recipient of awards including MRC Scholar, CIHR Scientist,  Aventis Pasteur Cinader Prize for Research and Education, York U  and Canadian Society for Immunology Service Awards, and is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University.  She has held a number of administrative positions in CIHR and York U including Vice Chair of the Advisory Board, CIHR Institute of Immunity and Infection,  Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, York U, and Advisor to the President, York U. She is extremely and most proud of the accomplishments of her trainees including Governor General Gold Medalists, a Rhodes Scholar, a York Susan Mann Scholar, Rae Leukemia Post Doctoral Fellowships, and a Louis Pasteur Fellowship.  Science based on data and mentoring at all levels have directed her whole life.

Dr. Vivian Saridakis

Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science 

Vivian Saridakis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at York. Professor Saridakis is a structural biologist whose research focuses on structure-function relationships of proteins within cells and their links to cancer and viral infections. In May, she was awarded a research grant by York University as part of funding dedicated to Canada’s fight against COVID-19. She is currently leading a team that hypothesizes the genomic sequences of the coronavirus may play a pivotal role in geographic differences in rates of COVID-19 infection, transmission and deaths. 

Dr. A.M. Viens

Associate Professor, School of Health Policy and Management, Faculty of Health 

Dr. A.M. Viens is an Associate Professor of Global Health Policy and Director of the School of Global Health at York. His research specialization focuses on global health ethics and law, with a particular interest in demonstrating how philosophical analysis, legal epidemiology, and regulatory theory should shape how we approach different issues within global health policy, practice, and research, including infectious diseases, disasters and emergencies, and health promotion. 

Panel 3: Racism in a pandemic – More than a health crisis

NEW DATE: Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021 | 10-11:30am ET

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of racism on many communities has been compounded. In this panel discussion, York experts will discuss the effects and implications of the pandemic on Canada’s marginalized communities. Dr. Jack Rozdilsky, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director of Disaster & Emergency Management, will discuss the concept of social vulnerability and define the pandemic akin to a disaster management paradigm. Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek, Vice-President Equity, People & Culture, will discuss the impact on multi-generational families in the Indigenous community. Associate Professor Dr. Robert Kenedy, whose work examines co-curricular and curricular peer education, mentorship, and leadership, will discuss scapegoating of the Jewish community. Assistant Professor Dr. Jude Kong of the Canadian Center for Disease Modelling will address anti-Black racism. And Dr. Cary Wu, whose research focuses on political culture, immigration, and inequality, will bridge the challenges across these marginalized groups, and what pandemic recovery could look like.

Dr. Sheila Cote-Meek, PhD

Vice-President, Equity People & Culture

Dr. Cote-Meek is Anishinaabe from the Teme-Augama Anishnabai. She is the inaugural Vice-President Equity, People and Culture at York where she leads a team that includes the Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion, Labour Relations and Human Resources.

Prior to this, Dr. Cote-Meek was the Associate Vice-President, Academic and Indigenous Programs at Laurentian University where she played a leadership role in advancing Indigenous education. Author of Colonized Classrooms – Racism, Trauma and Resistance in Post-Secondary Education (2014) and two recent co-edited books, Decolonizing and Indigenizing Education in Canada (2020) and Critical Reflections and Politics on Advancing Women in the Academy (2020), Dr. Cote-Meek is well-known provincially and nationally for her work in promoting equity and inclusion in higher education.

Dr. Robert Kenedy        

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, LA&PS

Robert A. Kenedy (PhD) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at York. He has been studying ethnic identity since 1989, with much of his research focusing on collective identity, ethnic communities, Diasporas, antisemitism, multiculturalism, civic participation, immigration, and resettlement. Most recently, he has been researching Lusophone resettlement and education, the French Jewish Diaspora, campus BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), antisemitism, and the new antisemitism in Canada.      

Dr. Jude Kong

Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Science

Dr. Jude Kong is an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics & Statistics department at York University. He is a member of the Canadian Black Scientist Network, the Canadian Center for Disease Modelling. Additionally, Dr. Kong leads the Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium.  He is an expert in data science, machine learning, infectious disease modelling and population dynamics. His principal research objective is to use mathematical/statistical/computational modelling to study the impact of environmental stressors on species distribution and the dynamics of infectious diseases.

Dr. Jack Rozdilsky

Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director, Disaster & Emergency Management, School of Administrative Studies, LA&PS

Jack Rozdilsky is an Associate Professor and the Graduate Program Director of the Disaster & Emergency Management Program at York University. In February 2020 he received funding from the Canadian Institutes to Health Research to explore the experiences of Chinese diaspora communities in Toronto and Nairobi with the goal of developing destigmatization campaigns to prevent the unfair targeting of ethnic groups during infectious disease outbreaks.

Dr. Cary Wu     

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, LA&PS   

Cary Wu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at York. His research focuses on political culture, immigration, and inequality. He often shares his research with the public via national and international TV, radio, and newspaper forums including NPR, CBC, Toronto Star, Macleans, and Financial Times.  He recently received funding support from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to study the social impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.

Panel 4: The impact of the pandemic on the environment

Date: Saturday, April 17, 2021 | 10-11:30am ET

Full list of panelists and event description will be shared shortly.

Ideas for Life, Living and the World Around Us

Since 2009, York Circle has showcased the ideas and research being generated by York University’s community. Topics come from every faculty and have included discussions around gender issues, brain function, mental health, international aid, sports injuries, financial policy and many more evolving subjects. Learn more about our past lectures and the distinguished speakers who presented them, and then sign up to hear about our upcoming presentations.

Join The York Circle

Membership is free! Once you’ve joined, we’ll invite you to each event where you can:

  • network in a relaxed environment
  • learn about current research on key topics from York’s professors
  • meet like-minded people who love to learn

Please note: Current students and faculty of York are not eligible to join The York Circle but can attend as a guest of a registered member.

For more information on The York Circle, call us at (416) 650-8159 or email us at

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