By Astrid Poei
A nutrition student says her rights were trampled on after she was forced to work with animal products in one of her classroom experiments or fail her assignment, despite her personal beliefs.
Tanya Kowalenko, a second-year student and a vegan, said she was ordered to attend a biochemistry lab on Feb. 20 or fail. She said in the lab, her professor instructed the class to dab egg yolk on a piece of test paper. The test was to determine the amount of lipid gels in the eggs.
Kowalenko said she e-mailed her professor, Mario Estable, about a week-and-a-half prior to the lab, voicing her concerns. She said she was willing to do another assignment in lieu of working with animal products, but her professor said it wasn’t a valid excuse.
“Part of the lab I wasn’t really comfortable doing because there were animal products used in the lab, so I sent an e-mail and he wrote back that it wasn’t a valid reason. I had to go back to the lab,” she said.
According to an e-mail from Kowalenko, Estable replied, “Unfortunately I am unable to accommodate your request for exemption from labs using animal products. If you miss the laboratories without a valid reason, you will consequently receive a zero for those laboratories missed.
“Adhering to a vegan diet is not considered a valid reason for missing the laboratories,” he wrote.
Estable refused to comment on the situation.
Kowalenko has been a vegan for the last two years and does not believe in using any animal products or products that harm animals.
Chris Evans, interim chair for the department of chemistry and biology, said there are no rules governing this type of situation.
“As far as I know, in Ryerson’s policy there are no policies covering vegan or moral policies, but we try to accommodate academic needs,” Evans said.
“Usually these kinds of problems can be resolved by the student and professor.”
Evans said he hasn’t spoken with Estable but says that this particular lab was a partnered endeavor and Kowalenko could have asked her partner to work with the egg yolk.
Kowalenko admits she didn’t touch the egg yolk, but feels wronged for being forced to work with animal products.
This is not the first time Kowalenko has had a conflict between her personal beliefs and Ryerson’s curriculum requirements. Last year, she took two courses — food service management and nutrition — in which she was expected to work with animal products. But she says she was exempted from class work with no problems from her professors and did alternative assignments to earn her marks.
Kowalenko hopes that by coming forward with her story, she can emphasize that a person’s beliefs don’t have to be compromised under any circumstances.
“(I want to) get them to understand that people have different morals … I was pretty upset that I had to do it.”