Rally and March Against Sexism, Racism and Islamophobia in the Workplace

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On March 1st, students, faculty and community members met in the Student Learning Centre for a rally and march against sexism, racism and Islamophobia in the workplace.  The event was put on by the Sam Gindin Chair, the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, CESAR, the Jack Layton Chair and the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  The event was in response to recent incidents within Ryerson and the Ryerson Students’ Union, including the firing of Gilary Massa, who was on maternity leave.

The event began with a rally in the Student Learning Centre, with close to one hundred people gathered in the lobby.  Anne-Marie Singh, from the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, spoke first drawing parallels between the outdoor climate of wintry weather and the climate women experience.  She commented that “it’s not just chilly outside; it’s chilly in courtrooms, our work spaces, our offices…”  Singh cited racialized women on maternity leave being restructured out of their jobs as an example of this chilly climate at Ryerson.  She also discussed Indigenous faculty being questioned about their credentials and racialized staff being harassed with impunity at Ryerson.  Singh also spoke to those who hold privilege on this campus stating that, “if fighting racism seems racist, if equity feels like oppression, check your privilege”.  She also called out the Ryerson Students’ Union for needing to check their privilege if they think the firing of Gilary Massa was fair.

Massa also spoke at the event and was joined by the lawyer representing her for the Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the Ryerson Students’ Union and its current executives.  Massa described what happened to her as putting the rights of working women back 20 or 30 years; she didn’t think it was possible to be fired while on maternity leave and neither did most people she has spoken to following her termination.  She also discussed the business decision made by the Ryerson Students’ Union as anti-woman and anti-worker, and asked what kind of message this send to students and women who are entering the workforce and want to start a family.  Massa’s lawyer, Saron Beresellasi, thanked the Massa family for their decision to obtain council and fight this as well as encouraged people to pay attention to the case in hopes it will serve as a public education example for the RSU and others.

Awo Abokor, from the Ryerson Feminist Collective spoke about being frustrated by the lack of support for women, especially women of colour, in the workplace at Ryerson.  She went on to say there is no justice in the decision made that lead to Massa being fired and that intersections of class, race and gender were at play here.  Abokor sent a clear message to the entire Ryerson community: “if you don’t know what equity is, learn it”.  She described the firing of Massa as taking multiple steps back and not something that the RSU can simply apologize and move on from.

Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin described her pride for Ryerson but was disappointed the school had not taken a stand.  Ryerson University has been quiet on the issue, but Benjamin urged the school to take a stand as this is not just something between Massa and the RSU.  She also urged people to stand in solidarity for change beyond coming out the rally; this issue is ongoing and women are continuously suffering from racism on this campus.  Benjamin described the decision to fire Massa as not in the best interest of Ryerson and not what Ryerson stands for.  Benjamin ended by speaking about Massa’s baby, who was present for the rally, and calling them a “social justice baby”.

Pascale Diverlus, from the United Black Student’s at Ryerson and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, described seeing first hand of what it’s like to be a Black woman on Ryerson’s campus and the terrifying culture that is being created.  Diverlus expressed concern for future students and the community as the RSU is currently not a place of equity; Massa was the only Black full-time worker at the RSU.  “Black lives matter, Black women matter, Black Muslim women matter, Black families matter”.

Following the rally, we marched to the Student Campus Centre, which houses the offices of the Ryerson Students’ Union.  We gathered on the third floor of the building, outside the executive team’s offices.  Winnie Ng and Janet Rodriguez lead the crowd in a number of chants; none of the executive members came out to address the crowd.

This rally can’t be the end; we need more action beyond March 1st.  Ng encouraged the crowd to write letters to the Ryerson Students’ Union and to bring this issue to the attention of Ryerson administration.  The injustice in the decision to fire Massa is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of human rights and equity, but this is not an isolated incident.  It’s a clear and blatant action that is representative of what racialized women experience in the workplace daily.  The workplace in general is a chilly place for racialized women across this country, but we have an opportunity to start changing that at Ryerson.

RSU Election Debate: Student Safety at Campus Events

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On March 3rd, the Ryerson Students’ Union held its debate for the upcoming election.  Each candidate for the five executive positions was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and make an opening statement, which was followed by questions from the (very small) audience.  If you missed the debate, I encourage you to check out Keith Capstick (@KeithCapstick) and JC Vaughan (@suitnboodt) on Twitter as they both live-tweeted the debate.  It’s crucial that students familiarize themselves with each candidate’s platform as the campaign period is shorter than previous years.  I’m not going to re-cap the entire debate as Keith and JC have already eloquently done so, but I’m going to discuss a response to an audience question that I found deeply troubling.

A member of the audience, who was not affiliated with any candidate or slate, asked VP of Student Life and Events candidates about how they would ensure student safety at campus events.  They gave the example of this year’s Parade and Picnic that featured Drake; many students found the space to be unsafe, both in terms of physical safety and safe space, as well as inaccessible.  Some students were injured during the concert and others did not feel it was safe or accessible to them.  These are serious concerns that should be addressed and student safety should always be a topic in student government elections.

I was very troubled by current VP of Student Life and Events, Harman Singh’s response to this question; he is running for re-election on the Impact Ryerson slate.  His response to concerns about student safety, specific to events such as the Parade and Picnic, was that no one was shot or stabbed.

Why is this so troubling to me?  This response sets the bar so low for student safety that it’s barely off the ground.  This type of response tells students that everything that makes spaces unsafe on campus including racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, harassment, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, anti-Black racism, etc. don’t matter.  It tells students that these issues, which students experience daily, aren’t on the radar of the student union executive.  It also indicates that safe(r) space isn’t even considered when planning events.  With such a diverse student population, this means that the majority of Ryerson students are not of concern for big events.  As long as no one was stabbed or shot, it’s all good?  No, it’s not all good.

This type of response also sets the bar low for physical safety as well.  There were several concerns about the large number of people that would be squeezed into the Lake Devo area that was sectioned off for the concert.  As with most large crowds, there were fights and people were injured, but that doesn’t matter because no one was stabbed, right?  Despite these concerns, Singh said we would have fit more people into that area.

I had no intention of going to this event, but if I had wanted to, it would have been completely inaccessible to me.  As a student with a disability, that many people in such a small space would be dangerous for me.  This would have been compounded by not being able to get out of the crowd as high fences surrounded the entire area.  I have been to previous Parade and Picnics at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Toronto Islands, and this has never been an issue.

Singh’s answer to this question completely focused on Drake and Ryerson’s reputation to the outside eye.  It doesn’t matter if students feel unsafe at events because Drake came to Ryerson, which is apparently school-transfer worthy, and no one was killed.  This indicates greater concern for what Ryerson looks like from the outside as opposed to how students feel.  Isn’t our student union’s main concern supposed to be its students?

The Ryerson Students’ Union teamed up with the Feminist Collective this past December to host an event on the state of and importance of safe spaces on campus.  If the current Ryerson Students’ Union truly cared about student safety, they would consider this in all aspects of their work, including campus-wide events.  Drake shouldn’t be the RSU’s main priority; its students should be.  What’s the point in having cool events if a majority of students at Ryerson couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons?

I really encourage students, even graduating ones, to look closely at candidates’ and slates’ platforms and vote this coming week.  I’m not non-partisan; I organize a feminist group on campus which is inherently political and I do plan on voting for RU Connected based on my own values.  A lot has happened on our campus in student politics this year but in regards to the topic of this blog. I pose this question; do we really want a student union that doesn’t care about the safety of its students?

 

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

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On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Soup and Substance.  The event discussed campus climate in relation to events both on and off campus, centering the voices and experiences of students.

The panel consisted of 6 students with diverse identities but with the common experience of a hostile and unsafe campus climate at times.  Student groups represented on the panel included: The Trans Collective, Muslim Students’ Association, Indigenous Students’ Association, Feminist Collective and Students Supporting Israel.  There was also a student present who spoke about the experience of having a disability on campus.  Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this selection of student groups did not contribute to a safe space for all students to attend and to participate in the panel.

In my representation of the Feminist Collective, I spoke broadly about the structures of misogyny and sexism, and how those have played out for our members this year.  The events I chose to focus on were the threats against women, feminists and specific departments at the University of Toronto in the fall and the visible emergence of a Men’s Issues group at Ryerson.  I spoke about how these events impacted our collective in general terms with a few specific examples of the harassment we experienced.  While I did not use “I” statements, I’m really glad that fellow panellists did as it demonstrated the ways individual interactions contribute to an unsafe campus climate for students.

In discussions about social justice, both on and off campus, we often discuss the structural nature of individual experiences.  We discuss how addressing racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, etc. at structural and institutional levels will impact individual experiences.  Many solutions to social injustice are based in eradicating these systems of oppression at systemic levels, as they should be, but this panel reminded me that all of these systems live in individuals.  With that being said, one of the ways we can create a safer campus climate is addressing the individual actions of students and faculty.

While the eradication of oppression needs to happen at a systemic level, there are very simple things individuals can do to change students’ experiences of campus climate.  Eradicating systems of oppression are long and hard-fought battles that will continue beyond our time at Ryerson; I commend all student activists who are fighting to address the heart of the matter which is systems of oppressions entwined in institutions.  Ryerson does not have a shortage of these activists, but if we want to see an improvement of student experience, individuals need to do some reflection and change their behaviours.  During the panel, I heard students share heartbreaking stories of their experiences on campus that ultimately reflect the individual choices of students and faculty in how they will interact with students.

Students with service dogs are being told to leave because their dog is scaring people; students without disabilities are taking the accessible seating in lecture halls and when asked to move, claim they got there first; trans students are being harassed for the clothing they wear and are concerned for their safety when they wear what they want; professors are using incorrect pronouns despite being told of the pronouns individual trans students use; students are being spit on and harassed while holding an event on campus; students with disabilities are being told to use the stairs to access the Student Learning Centre; students with disabilities that impact their vision are being told their eyes are scary; women who wear the hijab are being harassed on their way to class.  This is just a few examples.

All of these experiences which impact campus climate and a sense of safety at Ryerson are the result of individual actions.  While micro and macro manifestations of oppression are inherently related, one can change their individual actions.  Everything I described above manifests from the actions of individual people in the Ryerson community and they can change their actions at any time.

While the eradication of systems of oppression at institutional levels and the liberation of peoples affected by those systems is crucial, we can’t wait for widespread change.  Current students are unsafe now and they are impacted daily by the violence I described above.  A partial solution to a safer school climate lives within the individuals who hold privilege and attend/ work at Ryerson.  Those that hold privilege based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, ability, etc., are making this school unsafe through individual actions.  This is violent, unacceptable and we need to do better as a community at Ryerson.

Pack the Court: No Silence on Sexual Violence

Supporters, including Mandi, outside Old City Hall during the Ghomeshi trial.

On February 1st, young feminists descended on Old City Hall in various shades of pink clothing and lipstick to attend a sexual assault trial.  We weren’t there for the Ghomeshi trial; we were there for the Ururyar trial.  We were there to support our friend and fellow activist, Mandi Gray, as she testified against Mustafa Ururyar.

The first three days of the trial were filled with rape myth-based motions, blatant victim blaming and parallels being drawn between what was happening one floor below in the Ghomeshi trial and what we saw in the courtroom we sat in.  Following three days, half of which Mandi was on the stand under cross-examination, the trial as put off until April to review new evidence.  After watching Mandi testify, she is no doubt the toughest person I know; the defense lawyer in this case has attacked her character and self esteem throughout the entire cross-examination.

Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star was present and covered what has happened in the trial thus far:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/07/the-sex-assault-trial-one-floor-above-ghomeshi-porter.html

Porter wrote, “there was a line up outside this courtroom too- not of journalists though.  Most of the crowd in the small domestic violence court were young feminists, here to support their friend, Mandi Gray”.  I want to talk about who that group was, including Mandi, and why we were there.

The line up outside of the courtroom where Mandi was testifying was made up of people from across Toronto; there were students from York, University of Toronto and Ryerson.  On all three days, there were between 30 and 40 people in the court room.  We were there to support Mandi and wore pink to show our solidarity.  I’ve had a number of people ask me why we were there and do we really think it makes a difference?  My answer is yes and no.

Why yes?  Apparently supporting a sexual assault survivor is a radical thing to do, both in our criminal justice system and generally.  With the Ghomeshi trial, the amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the media, online and at dinner tables has increased substantially.  The media filed a motion in court to publish a photo of a sexual assault survivor in a bikini, need I say more?  The rape myths present in the criminal justice system continue to be blatant, especially during cross-examinations.  To come out and support a survivor who is testifying sends a clear message that we believe them.

In a world where over 50 women can accuse one man of sexual assault and we don’t believe them, believing women becomes viewed as radical.  In a world where survivors are not believed and face a criminal justice system that re-victimizes them, wouldn’t it be nice to have 40 people or even just one person in your corner?  The Crown and Judge aren’t in survivors’ corners; they aren’t there to make sure the survivor isn’t re-victimized on the stand.  We were there to be in Mandi’s corner.

Why no?  Our presence isn’t going to sway a ruling.  We were there because we all know that the system is broken and has always been broken.  We are all well-versed in the issue of sexual violence and know the criminal justice system does not protect survivors or convict perpetrators.  While we hold some hope that Ghomeshi and Ururyar will be found guilty, we know this is a long shot.  There’s been a lot of media focus on Ghomeshi’s lawyer and how the survivors were not prepared to testify, but these issues are much bigger than one individual case; this is an entire system that is ineffective in addressing sexual violence as a crime.

Our presence won’t sway a ruling and these rulings won’t sway us.  We know that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean violence didn’t occur.  These verdicts have no bearing on whether or not violence occurred; they have bearing on the criminal justice system’s ability to properly apply criminal law to sexual assault.  In court rooms filled with rape myths, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and a focus on literally everything but the violence in question, the answer is no, the criminal justice system is not in a position to determine if violence has occurred.

No matter what the judges in these cases rule, the response to these verdicts is going to be loud.  We won’t be going home and accepting that the criminal justice system has done its job.  The people who have been standing outside with signs aren’t going away.  Those of us sitting in Old City Hall are all advocates in a variety of ways; we are documentary film makers, members of Silence is Violence-York, placement students at VAW organizations, members of Silence is Violence- U of T and the Ryerson Feminist Collective, and individuals who want to see a world without violence.

We made a Facebook event to support Mandi.  We have sat in the court room laughing, sighing and making side comments throughout the trial, knowing the judge could kick us out (he didn’t).  Mandi has kept her head up despite the amount of attacks on her self-esteem and character, and will return to testify in April.  She is also bringing forward a Human Rights Complaint in how York University handles sexual assault.  We are unapologetic in believing survivors and we will be back at Old City Hall in April.

“Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, we aren’t going to be silent about sexual violence.

Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we shed light on a historic Black Canadian figure. Viola Desmond was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She initially trained to become a teacher but decided to change career paths. She was a successful businesswoman who owned a barbershop and hairdressing salon business in partnership with her husband, Jack Desmond. In the midst of her business’ expansion, Viola left for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 to pursue a brighter future for her business.

It is in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where Viola Desmond makes a name for herself as one of the most influential and remarkable people – especially as a woman – during times of segregation between Blacks and Whites. Viola Desmond innocently went to the movie theatres one night in New Glasgow and decided to take a seat in the main floor of the theatre. Unbeknownst to her, this specific theatre had specific tickets for African Canadians – who should be seated in the balcony area – and White Canadians – who may be seated in the main floor of the theatre, where the movie can be better seen. Upon being asked to leave her seat and relocate to the segregated seat she was intended to sit in, she refused. The police were called and Viola Desmond was charged without being advised of her right, ending in her spending the night in jail.

The following morning, she paid the fine of $20 for the alleged crime and was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia with the difference in tax between a ground floor ticket at the movie theatres and a balcony seat ticket. The difference amounted to approximately one cent.

Desmond courageously decided to fight the charges against her, understanding that the issue was not surrounding around the idea that it was tax evasion, but rather, inherently racist. Viola Desmond took the case to court, where she was able to gain public opinion on the matter both locally in her own community, nationally, and internationally. This issue raised significant awareness on segregation within Canada.

Viola Desmond’s arrest quickly caught the attention of the Black Canadian community. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) raised money to per her fine and help her to fight against her charges. Carrie best – the founder of Nova Scotia’s first Black owned and operated newspaper, publicized her story in order to truly amplify her message and spread awareness.

As a result of the garnered attention generated by Demond’s case, the government of Nova Scotia had no choice but to eliminate segregation laws. In 1954, the government completed repealed them.

This was quite a significant turning point in the history of segregation within Canada as it revealed and exposed the fact that segregation was still real and alive within Canadian borders. At that time, there was a notion that Canada was the safest place for Black people who are being racially discriminated and segregated internationally to go to. Canada was put on a pedestal for being “free of segregation and racial discrimination,” when in reality, such practices were still very much alive and not eradicated. This event urged the Canadian community – who was expected to be an ally in the Black Civil Rights Movement – to take corrective action and implement more inclusive and culturally-aware laws and policies into legislation. It significantly sparked the wave of Canadian Black Civil Rights movement, urging Canadians to explore, expose, and correct issues surrounding racism and racial discrimination within our own borders.

This event truly catapulted Canada’s policies and legislations towards a more progressive and inclusive direction. The Canadian government began consciously implementing more diverse, multicultural, and inclusive laws in the years to follow that incorporates Black Canadians into Canadian culture as valued members of society. As a result of the corrective action that followed after this event, Canadian people adopted a more culturally aware, inclusive, and diverse ideology about race. The issue of racism was brought to the forefront of social justice issues and light was being shed on racial discrimination as being very much so present in Canadian society, contrary to popular opinion.

This event ignited a very important movement in Canadian society. It sparked the discussion and the need for action towards a society that is built on a foundation of diversity and multiculturalism. Viola Desmond remains an influential historical figure in Canadian history who, despite how little her action back then may have seemed, took an action that is not only significant but extremely powerful.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13

http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/249537

http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ethnocultural/publications/historical.pdf

The Power of Student Journalism

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Ryerson University has one of the best journalism programs, with many graduates going on to work for large publications such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.  With such an incredible program, it comes as no surprise that our campus has two school newspapers: The Eyeopener and The Ryersonian.  Student newspapers offer journalism students an amazing opportunity to write features, conduct interviews, and be an editor, practice photography, report on events and everything that goes with the operations of a newspaper.

While student newspapers are an excellent source of learning, this learning cannot come at the expense of the subjects of their stories.  There have been a few incidents lately that have raised some red flags as they have gone beyond students simply learning how to be journalists and waded into the territory of having serious and negative impacts on peoples’ lives.  As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

I’m all for student learning; as a social work student, I complete two placements where I’m able to learn social work skills necessary for my career.  I appreciate having a space to try things out, make mistakes and be able to try again.  I have and will continue to make mistakes throughout my placement and career.  This is why I can appreciate the position students working and writing for student newspapers are in; we are all students and everyone is learning.  I become less understanding of this when mistakes are made that are based in pure insensitivity and carelessness.

This type of mistake occurred during the coverage of the Ghomeshi trial this week.  When I arrived on campus the afternoon the trial began, I learned that one of the school newspapers had tweeted the names of the victims whose names are under a publication ban.  While this is a mistake by a student who is learning, this could have serious and negative consequences for those women.  There’s a publication ban in place for a reason and tweeting their names is an invasion of their right to privacy and anonymity in the public’s eye during a sexual assault trial.  I don’t know the legalities of breaking a publication ban but I’m assuming there are consequences.  While these students may say “oops”, delete the tweet, take it as a lesson learned and carry on, that tweet could impact those women in negative ways.  Our student media may have just disclosed the sexual violence someone has experienced to a family member, friend, colleague, boss, neighbour, etc.  This is further complicated in that Ghomeshi yields a lot of power due to his celebrity which means a high profile trial.  Consequences from that tweet could reach far and wide in that persons’ life; this cannot simply be treated as a beginners’ mistake.

This semester, I experienced a student error that could potentially have serious and negative impacts.  I was recently interviewed for a story on unpaid internships by one of the student newspapers.  I discussed my experiences of having a disability and completing a lot of unpaid placement hours; when asked what my disability was, I disclosed I have a brain injury as I did not want it to be misconstrued or misrepresented.  I’m not sure what happened between my interview and the publication of the article but the newspaper printed that I have mental health issues.  How would I disclose this in an interview if that is not a lived experience I have?  Fortunately, the newspaper edited the online version and printed a correction but that’s a pretty big mistake.  Considering the stigma attached to mental health issues and that my experiences were presented as representative of students with lived experience, I’m extremely lucky I have not had any negative consequences thus far.  I was extremely concerned considering I have been very vocal about men’s rights and issues groups which often discredit feminist and women’s voices by claiming they are “mentally ill”.  These types of mistakes cannot be brushed off as expected errors in learning; they need to be addressed and there needs to be some accountability.  While the Editor of the newspaper apologized several times, I still have not heard from the reporter who interviewed me and wrote the article.

This year, I’ve had a lot more interactions with campus media as I began co-organizing the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  We have been interviewed on a number of topics including our initial solidarity with U of T event, the men’s issues group at Ryerson, meninists, body hair, self-love for racialized and immigrant women, our Take Back the Campus event, masculinity, the RSU, etc.  I’ve had some really great experiences with student journalists at Ryerson; great interviews, great questions and discussion, well-written articles and no one has spelt my name wrong yet.  Student journalists have been very respectful about my safety concerns regarding some of the issues I have been interviewed about and have waited after events to interview me when I would be most comfortable.  I’m still friends with Dylan Freeman-Grist, who wrote the amazing first article about the Ryerson Feminist Collective when we formed in September.  A student journalist I recently met even helped me with this blog, which I really appreciate.

Student newspapers have made errors that could have negative impacts and this needs to be addressed but I also want to talk about the student journalists who are doing amazing work.  This is who should be recognized for their work and contributions to campus life.  The students working at both campus newspapers work very hard at their jobs (I hear they are on campus until 2:30 am some days) while taking full course loads, working outside jobs and still managing to have a social life.  The stories are always interesting and they are always reporting on current student news.  The work of these journalists should be recognized and highlighted for other students to learn from to avoid mistakes that could potentially be harmful.

While mistakes in student learning are inevitable, errors that can be extremely harmful need to be addressed.  This can be done by having those who make mistakes take accountability for them and also having a good understanding of the power student journalists hold.  What you write could change someone’s life and I think this is an important lesson to take into any field, including journalism.

Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

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*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States.  While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year.  This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.

Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus.  These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.

A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.

On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case.  A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester.  The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.

PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest.  Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague.  The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.

The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester.  Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard.  This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions.  Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.

This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus.  This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus.  If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him.  If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him.  How is this fair to these two students?

Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address.  One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus.  Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus.  Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits.  Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.

If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such.  If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus.  While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner.  They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus.  If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety.  If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them?  Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety?  This would protect all students.

If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this.  Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education.  A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction.  They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.

If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus.   Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk.  Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.

Sources:

http://security.news.yorku.ca/2016/01/09/security-bulletin-9-january-2016/

Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/

Black on Campus Ryerson

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On November 18th, Ryerson students, faculty and staff gathered at Victoria and Gould Streets to express solidarity with students organizing at Mizzou and #BlackonCampus events across the globe, and share experiences of being Black on campus.  These experiences were shared at the event and on social media using #BlackonCampusRye.  Black on Campus Ryerson: Solidarity Action with Mizzou and Yale was organized by the United Black Students at Ryerson.  I was fortunate enough to attend in solidarity as a student, a co-organizer with the Ryerson Feminist Collective and an ally.

The event began with a banner drop from above the Ryerson Book Store.  The banner read, “We Rise with Mizzou #BlackonCampusRye”.  From there, students, faculty and staff went on to share their experiences of being Black on Ryerson’s campus.  As an ally, my job is not to tell you my experiences of being at the event; it’s to center the voices of those who experience anti-Black racism on campus.  For the rest of this blog post, I will attempt to do just that.

"We Rise with Mizzou" banner that was dropped above the Ryerson book store.

“We Rise with Mizzou” banner that was dropped above the Ryerson book store.

The first speaker at Black on Campus Ryerson was Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin.  Benjamin has been a professor with Ryerson for 30 years and has worked and been an activist in many capacities including issues of anti-racism, feminism, immigration, criminal justice, healthy and many more.  Benjamin discussed the need for Black students to see themselves reflected in faculty and curriculum.  The curriculum in Ryerson classrooms come from a very Eurocentric and Western model, lacking Black voices, scholars and experiences.  This is amplified by the overwhelming white faculty seen across all post-secondary institutions.  Benjamin wants to see classrooms where Black Lives Matter, where students and faculty don’t have to be afraid to talk about race and anti-Black racism.

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

From there, the microphone was open for students to share their experiences of being Black on Campus at Ryerson.  These experiences came from different students, different faculties, different programs and different classrooms but they all had one thing in common: anti-Black racism is prevalent at Ryerson.

What does anti-Black racism look like at Ryerson? Microaggressions being present in every classroom and acting as barriers to education.   A white professor stating they experience racism because they have a mixed daughter.  Professors being more concerned about white students’ feelings in discussions of racism.  Discussions of racism being dominated and run by white students, despite Black students being present in class. White professors acting as experts on race and racism, completely ignoring the voices and experiences of Black students, even when they have their hands raised to speak.

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Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is the environment of hostility in classrooms when political discussions arise.  Racialized students are not safe to speak in these classrooms dominated by white students, white professors and a white curriculum.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is the token diversity on this campus; we need more.  It’s not enough to have one Black faculty member or one Black student in a classroom.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is Black students experiencing harassment and discrimination with no statement from our student union.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is not discussing these issues in a critical way because Black students don’t make it to campus and Black faculty don’t make it to the discussion table, due to systemic racism.  Black faculty are not involved in decision making decisions, as they are often kept in precarious work such as contract positions.

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Anti-Black racism is Black students’ hair being grabbed every day.  It’s asking Black students where they are really from and claiming a “right” to use the N-word. It’s a white student asking a Black student if they could wear cotton around her or would it be offensive because of the history of slavery.  It’s increased security and pat-down searches for pub nights held by racialized student groups.  It’s decentralizing Blackness when talking about anti-Black racism.

Racism in classrooms is affecting students’ mental health.  Even in an anti-oppressive program such as social work, Black students huddle together and hope to be in the same classes each semester due to prevalent racism.  One student shared that in classes where group work is required, no one looks to partner with her despite doing well in that class.  Many students experience depression and debate leaving their programs due to rampant anti-Black racism.

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Each program and faculty has racism in its classrooms; it may look different, but it is anti-Black racism.  One student discussed never hearing her experiences of being Black in school.  A student from fashion shared that she is the only Black woman in her class and the constant discussion of diversity in fashion yet there is no diversity in the classroom.  Anti-Black racism is when white students in her class find only having one Black student in the class to be humorous.  These discussions of diversity in fashion are limited to Black women on the runway where Black women’s bodies are eroticized.  There’s never a discussion of diversity in management, designers, etc.  Anti-Black racism is journalism students being told to choose between activism and being a journalist.  It is professors using racial slurs in classes and defending their “right” to do so as it is a language studies class.

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Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is students being here for 4 years and still not feeling comfortable or welcome on campus.  Black students need to feel safe and welcome on campus.  Where are the academic accommodations for students who don’t feel safe on campus?

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Black bodies are not safe on this campus; we need to name anti-Black racism.  We also need to recognize that it’s not always safe for Black folks to speak up in the face of racism; this is where allies need to step up beyond re-tweeting.

Black lives, students, faculty and staff matter.  It’s time that Ryerson as an institution, Ryerson administration, Ryerson faculty, Ryerson staff and Ryerson students started acting like it.

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Men’s Issues Groups: Maintaining the Status Quo

This semester, a men’s issues awareness group has been trying to organize and be recognized as a student group on Ryerson’s campus.  This has been a hot news story for Ryerson media as a similar group was denied student group status in 2013.  I’m a co-organizer of the Ryerson Feminist Collective; we are currently applying for student group status with the Ryerson Students’ Union.  My fellow co-organizers, Jackie Mlotek and Areezo Najibzadeh, and I have been doing a lot of interviews with Ryerson media about our group as well as our opposition to men’s issues awareness groups.  Each time we have talked to a reporter, I have added more each time.  As of now, these thoughts are scattered amongst a variety of Ryerson media and could possibly not be included in the articles, so I’m going to put them all together here.

Fear on Campus:
One of the reasons I do not support men’s issues awareness groups is that students are fearful of them organizing on campus.  Several sexual assault survivors have disclosed that they have not been attending their classes after seeing men’s issues presence on campus.  The specific group on campus has claimed that they are not misogynistic because 45% of their membership is women.  A few women being comfortable and feeling safe enough to join this group does not negate the fear other women, feminists and survivors feel.  Men’s issues groups have a long history of harassing and threatening women, feminists and survivors across university campuses, I don’t blame people for being fearful and suspicious of these groups.

Intersectional or Bust:
Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that people experience multiple oppressions and privileges simultaneously.  Many feminists have recognized that any discussion of gender cannot be done without an intersectional framework as race, class, sexuality, ability, etc. influences the way one experiences gender.  For example, my experience of being a white woman is very different than a Black woman’s experience.  Men’s issues groups do not seem to have taken any type of intersectional approach in their work.  Issues these groups address are often chosen by white, straight, cisgender men based on their experiences.  Discussions of other identities and issues that do not affect white, cisgender, straight men are absent from the conversation.

I’ve never seen or heard of men’s issues groups address issues that do not impact white, straight, cisgender men.  They have been absent from any discussions of men of colour experiencing police brutality.  They are very vocal about how there are more men in prisons than women, but the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous men is never mentioned.  Transgender men are not even included in discussions of men’s issues.  The group on campus wants to discuss literacy rates in schools; will the experiences of Black youth who are pushed out of school be part of this discussion?  How about the unequal practices in suspending students from school based on race?  Where does poverty and class come into these discussions?  I haven’t seen any men’s issues groups out protesting the closure of a men’s shelter.

Are you really addressing men’s issues when you only talk about those experienced by the most privileged of the group?

Ideology:
Men’s issues groups completely ignore the social structures that shape experiences.  Men’s issues groups gather angry young men and provide them with an outlet for that anger which is to blame women and feminism.  Young men are angry; pointing the blame of that anger to feminism and women adds fuel to the fire.  This does not constructively dismantle where that anger comes from.  The unattainable expectations of men today were not put in place by women and feminism, they came from a patriarchal system.  While patriarchy undoubtedly privileges men, the system also harms them.  A lot of the issues men face would be resolved with the dismantling of patriarchy.  So why blame feminism and women?  It’s a lot easier and unlike patriarchy, we are a tangible source of blame that you can see.  Plus, they may not want to dismantle a system that ultimately privileges them.

Men’s rights groups only address larger social structures when they perceive themselves as a victim of those oppressions.  In the wake of several school shootings in the United States, many have pointed out these shooting rampages are mostly committed by white men.  Men’s issues groups call this sexism and racism.  You cannot be sexist towards a man and cannot be racist towards a white person; there’s no such thing as reverse racism and sexism.  These things have historical context and are upheld by institutions; they do not apply to you when are privileged in that system.

These groups also call for equality, which implies that men do not have equal status to women.  Men have never had to fight for their rights based on their identity of being male.  Men have fought for other rights based on other aspects of their identity such as race, ability, class, sexuality, etc., but never based on being men.

A Way to Talk about Men’s Issues:
Men do have issues and they should be discussed; I don’t oppose these groups for simply wanting to talk about the issues men face.  The White Ribbon Campaign does an excellent job talking about men’s issues; it’s done within a framework that recognizes the privilege of being a man and that harmful ideas of manhood can lead to violence against women.  It frames manhood and men’s issues in the larger context, which is missing in men’s issues groups.  The White Ribbon Campaign talks about men’s issues without being disrespectful or threatening towards women, sexual assault survivors or feminists.

It is possible to talk about men’s issues in a healthy way but current men’s issues and rights groups cause both harm to the individuals who join them and those who oppose them.  Men’s issues groups simply maintain the status quo; men stay angry and unaware of their privilege while women remain marginalized and vulnerable to men’s expression of that anger.

White Ribbon Campaign: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/

 

A Letter to My First-Year Self

dearletter

I’ve always enjoyed this kind of writing style; the kind where an older and wiser person tells the younger and dumber version of themselves what they wish they knew in hopes that other younger and dumber folks will use their advice to become older and wiser faster.  They also serve as a good laugh for the current older and wiser.  They are all similar in some ways but I still enjoy them and see their merit.  I’ve never been in a position to write one of these writing pieces until now.  As I begin my fourth year of university, I can write a letter to my first-year self.  There’s tons of “do and don’t” articles for university, first year, residence, etc. out there and I don’t want this to be one of those pieces.  I won’t be standing up on a soapbox telling you what to do if you’re in first year.  I’m not an expert on the university experience; I didn’t live in residence, I’ve never been to Brunswick House and I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, but I  think I’ve grown during my time at Ryerson.

I just started my fourth year of the Bachelor of Social Work program; it’s going to take some time to get used to hearing that I’m a fourth year.  Beyond course work, I think I’ve learned some valuable lessons about life, people, surviving university etc. during my  experience thus far.  I like to think I’ve come a long way from the hot mess first year walking around downtown Toronto in a blazer with spikes on the shoulders, red lipstick, heeled boots and earrings that should strictly be reserved for the nightclubs.  While that girl makes appearances at times, I think I’ve learned some things since that awkward and fashionably questionable time in my life.  So here is a letter to my first year self:

It’s first semester and you have found your people; your friends, your soul mates, your rocks, your supports, whatever you want to call them.  That’s all going to come crashing down when you don’t have classes together next semester.  Your close friends will greatly depend on who you have classes with each semester.  Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to have close friends you see regularly, even when you don’t have classes together, but you’ll see the people you have classes with much more often.  These will be the people you sit with, go for coffee breaks with, grab lunch after class with, complain with and who will know how you are on a day-to-day basis.  These people may change every semester and that’s okay.

So, how do you deal?  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  You don’t need a clique, this is not high school.  There seems to be a pattern amongst the cliques in university.  First, no one will know your name.  The people in your program who are not in cliques will simply refer to your group with an identifying phrase.  For example, the short girls that sit together.  Second, you will not make any friends outside of your group because that’s how cliques work which will ultimately lead to my third noticed pattern, when you have a class without your clique, you will likely be sitting alone.  Don’t be too concerned about finding “your group”; you’re much better off meeting plenty of people.

I had an idealized version of what my new life would be like when I moved to Toronto and that included a boyfriend.  I knew most of the guys in my hometown and they were not for me (no offence Niagara boys but we have met and we are not each other’s types).  That fantasy never panned out and I will admit, first year me was quite disappointed.  Listen up first-year me, it doesn’t matter.  There are so many cooler things you can do in university than having a boyfriend.  You also may not have time to have a significant other.  Think of how busy your life is going to be with classes, placement, new friends, volunteering, part time jobs, and all the things you can do in Toronto.  Where would you fit him in?  Save the boyfriend for a better time.

Your apartment, your room in your parents’ house, your residence room, or wherever you reside, is going to be messy.  Even the tidiest of people will succumb to the big choices in university; doing readings or cleaning, writing a paper or cleaning, going out with your friends or cleaning.  Cleaning never wins.  Keep in mind that we are at the epicentre of cockroaches and bed bugs so a certain amount of cleanliness is still a good idea.

A class may not be your cup of tea; don’t be afraid to drop those classes.  There have been several classes where during the second week I’ve had a gut feeling that I would not enjoy this class.  I stayed in those courses because I was worried about having to catch up in a new course.  I wish I had dropped all of those courses because catching up in a new course would have been better than staying in a course I did not like.  The bottom line is you’re paying for this and should enjoy it.

It’s okay to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night.  University is tiring to the point where most of my classmates reserved Friday nights to stay home and rest, especially when placement started in third year.  There is nothing nerdy about doing readings or an assignment on a Friday or Saturday night.  On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with dropping all of your responsibilities for a night and going out or having a Netflix night.

Work hard; go to class, get good grades, get involved, volunteer.
Play hard; explore Toronto, meet new people, make new friends, try new things.

The jacket with spikes on the shoulders from first year.

The jacket with spikes on the shoulders from first year.

Top image from: dating.lovetoknow.com