U of T’s Women and Gender Studies Institute released a statement last week condemning the recent transphobic and anti-Black incidents that have been taking place at U of T, and called for the university to detail their plan to prevent similar incidents from happening.
“Hate speech should not be tolerated under the banner of free speech,” read the statement. “Racist and transphobic harassment and hate speech are against U of T’s Statement on Human Rights (2012), the policy on Freedom of Speech and its Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence.”
In an interview with The Medium, Joan Simalchik, associate chair of the Historical Studies Department and WGS coordinator, said the letter was signed by over 200 faculty members within two days.
“The WGS is a program that is committed to safe, positive learning environments, and the statement is part of going into that and building more and more,” said Simalchik. “So when threats occur the way they do and the way they did last year against feminist professors and students, we think the only real antidote to fear that threats cause is by building solidarity and support.”
Michelle Murphy, a U of T professor in the department of history and WGS Institute, stated in an interview with The Medium that their aim is to offer a response that “goes beyond condemnation of the statements and affirmations of principles of equity and diversity.”
Murphy explained that the question that needs to be brought to attention is what can the university do, not just in a reactive way, but also proactively, to offer a supportive place that is free of threats for the trans and the Black community, the non-binary gender, and the queer, in addition to people of all kinds.
“What we think we’d like the university to put in place is not just responding to hateful incidents, but a more robust ongoing university effort to really make different kinds of spaces where students and faculty can work with support,” said Murphy.
“So that’s the difference between being reactive and proactive; that’s really one of the things we’re hoping the university will step up and do.”
The letter also stated that faculty and U of T members are committed to challenging racism and transphobia. It explained that the institute supports other students and faculty who are against these “unacceptable” and “hostile” conditions.
“[Our goal is to] make sure that when threats come against members of our community—our students, faculty, and staff—we have a responsibility to support them as a whole, as a group, institutionally, and not have it seem as an individual issue,” said Simalchik. “It’s a social and political issue, and we’re clear in understanding that, and that the best way to infer is to rally together.”
In two of his YouTube lectures in September and October, U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson refused to recognize genderless pronouns, which incited controversy, a rally against him, and another rally supporting what he said as part of being free speech.
Peterson wrote an opinion piece last Tuesday on The Hill, an American political website informing readers of news in Congress and the White House, warning America of implementing a similar legislation as that of Canada’s Bill C-16.
He addressed a legislation passed in New York called The New York City Human Rights Law, which, according to Peterson, fines citizens up to $250,000 for “mis-gendering”.
In his piece titled, “Canadian gender-neutral pronoun bill is a warning for Americans,” Peterson wrote, “Bill C-16, and its legislative sisters, are particularly insidious constructions.”
He stated that New York City protects a non-exhaustive list of 31 gender pronouns, while Facebook offers users a choice of 58.
“Are the denizens of New York now legally required to employ a new pronoun for each of these many identities?” Peterson wrote.
“How are they supposed to keep track of who’s who? And who is going to distinguish between mistakes and criminal action or intent?”
He also wrote that, in his opinion, gender pronouns are part of the “PC game”.
The comments and events that followed his comments in lectures have sparked controversy within the U of T campuses, and have also gained national coverage from CBC, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and others. The people “talking” about U of T has reached over 90,000, as well.