Chrisoula Falagaris: Keeping us secure

"I was a psychology major, wanting to be a radio broadcaster and I ended up here," says Chrisoula -- better known as Chris -- Falagaris gesturing to her small and sparsely decorated office in the Ferrier building.

But "here," as it turns out, is where Falagaris wants to be, even if it means being woken frequently in the middle of the night.

Falagaris is second in command of Security and Parking Services and if there's a theft at McGill in the middle of the night or if a security guard needs to know if someone has clearance for entry into a particular building, she gets the call. "I'm on call 24 hours a day. That's why I look the way I do," she says with a chuckle.

It's been 10 years now since that fateful day when Falagaris fell into her unexpected line of work. During the summer of '88, the then Calgarian was in Montreal, visiting relatives, when she decided to look for a summer job. The agent at the unemployment insurance office told her to try upstairs where a security agency was hiring.

"'Me? Security? I don't think so,'" she remembers thinking to herself. Still, given the fact that she had no French and few connections, Falgaris decided that working as a security guard might be okay, at least temporarily. It helped that the job was at McGill, a university she grew to like from time spent helping a cousin with a research project.

Ten months later, Falagaris was offered the position of supervisor, though, with what seems to be characteristic modesty, she's still not sure why. Again, she was ambivalent about the offer. "I wanted to go back to school," she recalls. But she accepted the promotion and has no regrets. Why? Because this is work "with and for people," says Falagaris. "Here I'm able to provide assistance to people in need; I feel needed here."

Assistance comes in many forms -- giving advice regarding an alarm system gone awry, interviewing a student being stalked, asking that a phone call be traced, notifying the University community about thefts in the library -- much of it given over the phone, to which the regular prrrrring in her office attests. Just now, one of the campus's 70 Pinkerton security guards needs advice: Someone has been harassing members of the University's administration.

"Is she there now? … Find out if she's the person suspected and, if so, ask her to leave. If she doesn't, call the police," Falagaris says with calm authority.

At times, Falagaris has had to fight to have her authority accepted. Only 10% of the University's security guards are female. "Some men have responded badly," she says. "But I handle myself okay."

Steve Paquin, manager of Security and Parking Services and Falagaris's boss for the past four years, concurs and believes that being female is an asset to her position. Any cases involving women being threatened, harassed over the phone, stalked, etc. he directs to his co-worker. "She's very respectful of the complainant and has a great deal of compassion."

Paquin is impressed by his 35-year-old colleague's capacity for accepting responsibility such as she demonstrated during last January's ice storm when he was stranded at his home 100 kilometres from Montreal. It was Falagaris who, in conference by phone with Paquin, coordinated the security aspects of the shut-down campus. "She has good potential for taking decisions and action. She doesn't hesitate in my absence."

Hers is a job that frequently requires unpaid hours in overtime and a high resistance to stress. But then, Falagaris calls herself a "type A personality," saying that she can live with a certain degree of stress.

Still, everyone needs to unwind. Falagaris does it by walking the five kilometres to and from her Outremont home. Other times, the Greek music buff will jump in her car, turn on her tape player, take in the rich voice of singer Alkistis Protopsalti, drive to Pointe Claire and treat herself to a shopping spree at her favourite book store. And there's always the Greek-language radio show she has produced for Radio-Centreville every Friday for the past eight years.

Given the highly human aspect of supervising campus security and Falagaris's outside interests, perhaps she's not that far from her original aspiration, after all. Returning to study remains an interest, but it would be part-time, she emphasizes. "I like what I do."

Bronwyn Chester

Flunking nutrition

If a recent study by Dalhousie University researchers is any indication, university students are putting themselves on a fast track for cardiovascular health problems.

The Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation Research Centre surveyed about 600 Dalhousie students on how well they looked after themselves. The study also involved focus groups with a smaller number of students in order to get more detailed information.

The results indicated that most students didn't exercise enough, too many smoked, a good chunk of them preferred french fries over salads and most suffered from high stress levels.

"When students leave university, we want them to be ready to become good biologists, musicians and economists. We should also want them to be ready to lead healthy lives," says Dr. Lydia Makrides, the director of CPRRC and the head of the study.

"The more they know, the more you see them adopt healthy lifestyles," points out Makrides. "Students in medicine or physiotherapy, for instance, took much better care of themselves."

Makrides says all the blame can't be directed towards the students -- cafeterias in student residences often leave much to be desired.

"Cafeteria food tends to be high fat food. Students told me that they put on 10 to 20 pounds during their first year at university, eating cafeteria food."

Now that Makrides and her colleagues know that there is a problem, they intend to do something about it. They're trying to secure funding to set up a pilot health promotion program at a pair of Nova Scotia universities -- a program that would train students to cope with stress and encourage them to exercise and eat well. "To stop people from having heart attacks in their 50s, you have to get them to make changes to their lifestyles while they're still in their 20s."

I don't think it's medically or ethically justifiable for parents to be slicing off healthy parts of a baby boy's anatomy.

Professor Margaret Somerville, from the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, talking to The Gazette about her opposition to male circumcision. Somerville's stand earned her a human rights award at the sixth international symposium on sexual mutilations, as well as dozens of scathing letters from angry Jews, Muslims and other parents of circumcised males.

The agony of alumnotes

They've got better jobs than you do -- not to mention fatter wallets, swankier digs and more accomplished kids. It's hard not to wince when you pick up a copy of your alumni magazine, turn to the alum notes section and read about how fabulously successful your former classmates have become.

At least that's Victoria Balfour's thesis, laid out in an essay in the current issue of Glamour magazine, entitled "Why I hate alumni magazines." Balfour, a journalist, writes about how reading the alum notes section in her alumni magazine, Vassar Quarterly, used to make her grind her teeth.

"Slogging through these bubbly laundry lists of accomplishment has always gotten me down," Balfour writes. Alum notes tend to focus on exceptional achievements and material gains, says Balfour, ignoring the day-to-day struggles that mark the lives of most university graduates.

At one point in her life, Balfour was hospitalized for depression. "Overcoming it was one of the major accomplishments of my life, far more important than, say, the time I landed Imelda Marcos for an exclusive interview." In reviewing over 65 years' worth of the Quarterly's alum notes, Balfour couldn't spot a single item about a graduate wrestling with similar circumstances. "In a world full of achievers, I alone had fallen short."

After she wrote another essay arguing her viewpoint for the Quarterly, Balfour says, "letters started pouring in" from other graduates who agreed with her perspective.

Balfour urges alumni magazines to be less relentlessly cheery and more realistic in their coverage of graduates' lives.

"I know that some people feel alumni magazines are no place to air personal problems. But why not? We did after all spend four intimate years with one another. Strangers share problems on the Internet. Why can't the Notes offer the same support?"

Lawyers are pushing would-be clients into action because they can negotiate lucrative contingency fees. These ambulance chasers are a shame to the profession.

Law professor Michael Milde, speaking to Maclean's. Milde was commenting on how several attorneys have been alarmingly quick in contacting relatives of the victims of the Swissair crash and suggesting lawsuits.