What a week.
Last Wednesday, my day began with news of the lawsuit filed against UTMSU by the Students for Life chapter at UTM. And after reading the lawsuit, boy is there a lot I’d like to know.
On the one hand, we have a student club (that was recognized by UTMSU and existed during the previous academic year) that is no longer being recognized by UTMSU.
On the other hand, we have UTMSU, who as of press time has not offered us any comment on the lawsuit, but whose board minutes available online show a report from VP campus life Russ Adade saying, “Students For Life, which has been recognized by UTMSU in the past, was not recognized for the upcoming school year due to their stance on abortion, in terms of being pro-life and using their platform to tell women what they should do in those situations.”
Now, it’s still early in the story to jump to any conclusions, especially since UTMSU has not yet issued a statement responding to the allegations.
But just from looking at the statement in UTMSU’s own board minutes, one wonders about the justification for rejecting a student club recognition on the basis of its views.
According to Adade’s report, Students for Life “was not recognized […] due to their stance on abortion”. Stop there for a moment. Does anyone recall the controversy earlier this year on UTMSU’s definition for “reverse racism”? Not all students agreed with that or other definitions UTMSU posted on Facebook, and there was a fair bit of commentary taking place on social media on the topic.
But UTMSU took a clear stance on the issue despite the disagreement.
In our efforts this week to reach out to UTMSU for comment on the lawsuit, among the few things UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe said was, “We are proud to represent 13,000 undergraduate students at UTM and we will address this matter in the appropriate forum.”
Representing 13,000 members is a huge responsibility—not all of them have agreed with UTMSU’s previous stances, and I don’t believe that all 13,000 of them would agree on one side of the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate. So, in theory, what authority does UTMSU even have to shut down specific clubs on the basis of their views?
Abortion is a huge and highly personal topic and I don’t believe UTMSU needs to take a position on it at all—their job as a union is to represent student voices. Not shut them down.
As far as Adade’s report speaks to the issue of women being told what to do, I think women should be able to decide for themselves. And as with many complicated issues, it’s best to inform oneself of both sides of the debate before reaching a conclusion.
It’s not yet clear what precise activities SFL was involved in during the time it was recognized on campus. But as far as allowing discussion and events on the topic of pro-life or anti-abortion (however you prefer to think of it), it would be undemocratic to shut it down simply because one disagrees with its views.
So, yes, regardless of my personal views on the topic (and I don’t consider myself as exclusively on one side or the other), I think Students for Life should be recognized and permitted to hold events and speak its views on campus.
After all, I’m sure there are plenty of clubs already on campus whose views not all students agree with. But in a democracy, we allow those views to exist and promote discussion and dialogue on them rather than silence them. As long as the clubs don’t incite hatred or promote violence towards others, what’s there to fear?