I feel like this horse has been beaten to death by now but I want to talk about Jordan Peterson.
Shockingly, I’ve had a few friends who actually haven’t heard about what happened. So, I’m going to give a quick recap for those of you who haven’t been following the story. Psychology professor Jordan Peterson refused to use proper gender pronouns, stating “I don’t recognize another person’s right to determine what pronouns I use to address them. I won’t do it.” Naturally, this sparked tons of debate and controversy, which led Peterson attending a rally for free speech.
While he was trying to make his point, several students against his point stood behind him and started shouting “Shame!” or “Transphobe!” When Peterson took to the mic to speak to the crowd, white noise drowned him out from students trying to silence him.
This rally only caused more controversy.
It wasn’t just the fact that students were trying to silence him. Transgender students were filmed attacking journalists and the videos were uploaded to YouTube. Another YouTube video posted by Mattthecatrobinson showed a few minutes of the rally where viewers can see a free speech advocate get called “a fucking retard” by someone off camera who’s trying to shut him down.
Allegedly, members of BLC were also shouting racial slurs at those who took the mic in agreement with Peterson. According to comments left on social media by those who attended – namely UTSU’s Facebook post – Yusra Khogali of BLM hurled racial slurs at those in attendance. Particularly disturbing was the alleged use of the word “coon” by Khogali, a BLM member.
In light of all this, U of T is currently trending on Facebook. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given that this has been happening for the past few weeks and everyone seems to have an opinion.
However, my main point about all this isn’t necessarily what Peterson said. It’s about the one-sided, strategic reporting of our student unions that irk me.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have an opinion on the matter. Do I agree with Peterson’s decision not to use these gender pronouns? No. Even when news of this first came to light, I thought his decision was inevitably going to cause a problem. And that’s exactly what it did.
After the rally, transgender students at U of T began expressing their concern of threats targeted at them and their community. What started off as one man’s refusal to consider the trans community took an even worse turn when his comments acted as the catalyst for threats against that very same community.
Denio Lourenco sent a letter to students earlier this month listing demands that he and several others wanted from the university.
Lourenco even shared some of the threats he was receiving on Facebook in Vice’s article, “U of T Prof Ignores University’s Demand He Use Students’ Preferred Gender Pronouns”.
The article states, “The current political climate is rapidly changing and soon there will be a time when the western world wakes up from its shackles and smites down people like you with perfect hatred,” warned one Facebook message shared by Lourenco. “It won’t be tolerance and kindergarten-land tomorrow. There will be blood. Be very afraid.”
These threats obviously pose a serious problem for those in the trans community. In retrospect, Peterson may not have seen the damage his comments would cause down the line. But the students he refused to acknowledge saw these threats coming a mile away. And regardless of whether he or not he anticipated the weight of his comments, these threats turned his comments into hate speech. No one should have to be afraid to come to school because a professor of all people refused to include everyone.
There is one thing that Peterson appears to know about, though, which is the value of free speech.
Drawing back on Lourenco’s letter, it went on to state “Peterson states his disapproval of the mandatory anti-discrimination and anti-bias training that the University of Toronto has mandated for its HR professionals, an opinion that he was not asked for by anyone.”
While I understand where Lourenco is coming from in saying this, his comments are more detrimental than he may think. To simply state that an opinion is invalid because no one asked for it is doing the very thing Peterson tried to discuss in his rally.
Yes, Peterson’s comments were damaging and the inevitable cause for threats against the trans community. But, it’s just as damaging to attend a rally for free speech in an attempt to silence those who believe in free speech.
This leads into the meat of my argument. The student unions’ strategic, one-sided reporting on these events have angered a lot of people, myself included.
UTSU’s Facebook post addressing the rally stated that, “Tuesday’s rally was marred by bigotry and violence, and the Campus Police refused to intervene when they knew of and saw trans folks being assaulted. This is intolerable.” Now, my first issue with this is mentioning how trans people were the ones assaulted and how no one intervened. While this may be true, footage showing a trans person assaulting a journalist isn’t mentioned anywhere in the post.
Now, I’m far from claiming that one trans person’s actions speak for the whole community. Obviously, that community would condemn the assault as well. But not talking about the exceptions on both sides equals biased reporting.
I understand the union’s desire to place emphasis on the transphobic threats. But neglecting to inform students of violence committed by members of these defended groups is nothing short of biased. It’s also insulting to assume that students – the very students who attended the rally – aren’t aware of what’s going on around them.
The Facebook post was quickly shut down by those who commented on the unreported. Comments ranged from calling UTSU a joke of a student union, labelling them as biased, and calling them liars.
I’m not trying to say that some people won’t be upset regardless of what you put. Opinion pieces and especially news articles are always subject to heated debate. But to blatantly ignore key details in a public post opens the door for public outcry.
One of the saddest things this kind of reporting does is destroy the chance for discussion. Biased reporting or recounting of events only serves to ignore those who disagree with an obvious agenda. It also contributes to the backlash these communities receive. The rally was heated – everyone had something to say and very few went about it in a civilized way. Placing blame on campus police, the university, and those on the opposing side only shines a brighter spotlight on anyone whose actions weren’t called into question like everyone else’s.
Pretending that actions went unnoticed contributes to the anger and distaste currently placed against these communities. Everyone get heated. Everyone gets opinionated. Everyone does or will do something regrettable in their life. To admit fault is more admirable than denying a mishap ever occurred. It also opens the door for communication rather than having students get worked up over ignored facts.
I am in no way saying that the trans community deserves the threats they’re receiving. They also did not deserve an institution that is doing very little to protect their rights and address their concerns. They deserve respect just like the rest of us. One person’s misunderstanding of the community or the definitions within it does not warrant blatant disregard for the entire community. It also doesn’t give students the right to send threats to those within the community for the sake of “defending free speech.” Peterson’s comments also shouldn’t have the power to bring 60-year-old right-wingers out of the wood work to leave online comments like, “This never would have happened in university 40 years ago!” Yeah, it’s almost like the world is evolving to include those who were once shunned and mistreated for decades.
But this dangerous recounting of events serves the union’s agenda. By leaving out this kind of information, it’s obvious students will get upset over the biased reporting. If anything, it paints these communities in a negative light and that’s the danger. With these communities already being targeted by those who misunderstand them, the union has a duty to properly represent them.
In a comment left on UTSU’s Facebook post, Michael Lane wrote, “Yusra Khogali stood there sprinkling glitter on Lauren Southern. Granted, it was just glitter, but if the roles were reversed it’d be treated as a micro-aggression and deemed intolerable.” That’s the danger of this one-sided reporting. All it takes is one person on the opposing side to say, “Well, if the tables were turned…” to get a heated conversation going about how they were being mistreated. And where is the report on that? Now the trans community, the very one that the union wanted to protect, gets placed under even heavier fire.
It’s unacceptable for the trans community to go through the amount of hate that they do or to be misunderstood to the point of threats. But this rally wasn’t a one-sided argument and to portray it as such is insulting to the students who know both sides of the story. It’s important to get both sides of the story to avoid any unnecessary hatred or anger towards either side of the argument.
Actually, it’s crucial.