Friday, September 10, 2010
If you’re interested in conflict resolution, I hear that the University of Victoria’s Master of Arts in Dispute Resolution is quite reputable. For wannabe-mediators on the east coast, there’s the Certificate in Conflict Resolution Studies offered by the University of Prince Edward Island, and a cool $25,000 or so will get you an Honors Arts & Science in Peace Studies degree from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. But for those really itching to learn how to douse a fiery situation, look no further than the 11p.m. news.
Last evening, Florida pastor Terry Jones announced the cancellation--or temporary cancellation, at least--of his Quran-burning event, which was slated for this upcoming Saturday, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 attacks. Needless to say, Jones’s Gainesville church-led “International Burn a Koran Day” received condemnation from all over the world; from the Vatican to Pakistan, Obama to Stephen Harper, and most importantly, actress Angelina Jolie. But the denunciations just weren’t persuasive enough. Even a denied state burning permit couldn’t stop the furious pastor. Nor did the news that the Quran is also available on Kindle!
Then, of course, came the tipping point. Jones announced early Thursday evening that a deal had been reached with Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida that the much-disputed mosque near Ground Zero would be moved to another location. So the Quran burning was off. I know—apparently public charrings of religious texts can be doused by strategic urban planning. You haven't heard?
Well, in this bizzaro world in which we all seem to have fallen, moving a mosque fixes the problem. Moving this mosque, that is; the $100 million one slated a couple blocks away from the New York site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The controversial issue has garnered some international attention of its own over the past few months, with sometimes-libertarian Ezra Levant coming down against it in his July Sun column, whilst John Parisella reminded Maclean’s readers of America’s First Amendment and other Constitutional rights granting project managers the right to proceed. The debate has been futility playing out all summer, but managed suddenly to find a resolution last night. Or so it seemed. Later Thursday evening, Musri, acting as liaison between Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is heading the mosque project, said that Rauf only agreed to meeting Jones in New York, and not necessarily to moving the mosque. And so we wait.
Of course, even if a deal is reached, this is not a resolution--not for either issue. Rather, it seems a scary game of chicken with potentially disastrous repercussions, nevermind teasing a dangerous precedent. That it seems, of course, unless a UVic Master can explain the sanctity of this little ceasefire. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for Jones and Musri to yell “psyche!”
- Photo by David Shankbone
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
They’re all activities you’d find on campus during Frosh Week?
They’re all instruments of oppression, manifesting innocently behind a guise of “harmless fun,” wreaking havoc on the consciousnesses of privileged white students.
Thank [insert name of respective deity] that we have the Alma Mater Society, the student government at Queen’s University, to tell us what we should feel guilty about. Read their two-page apology, and you’ll learn why the “SUMO Showdown,” scheduled during their food bank fundraiser, “fails to capture the deeply imbedded histories of violent and subversive oppression that a group has faced.”
And those puffy Sumo suits? “Caused feelings of hurt,” writes AMS. They were not “being safe on-campus by planning this event.” Well, the pursuit of the jovial obviously blinded these students to their own privilege. “Regrettably,” they write, “those of us who were aware of the event did not critically consider the racist meaning behind it.”
Red-faced, I admit I didn’t see the racist meaning behind it. The bun, the Mawashi, the size of the wrestler–that’s what makes Sumo intriguing and distinctive. The AMS thinks wearing these cultural garments dehumanizes the culture; I think it simply identifies it. Mike Grobe, a spokesman for Queen’s Athletics, didn’t see the controversy either. He told the National Post, “It’s the first time we’ve heard of [the racist aspects].” Queen’s Athletics uses the suits regularly at half-time shows. “They’re pink… No one’s complained.”
I didn’t think our cultural climate was so volatile that any mirth is suddenly menacing. But I guess I was wrong.
The AMS apology further reads, “The event also devalues an ancient and respected Japanese sport.” Well, amen, friends. Someone should also tell Carl Douglas, singer of “Kung Fu Fighting,” to stop devaluing that ancient and respected sport. Poke fun at any cultural traditions–but leave the sports alone.
Making a fuss over Sumo suits–does it trivialize more serious issues of oppression and racism? I’d think about it further, but it’s much easier to just let my student leaders decide for me.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
My fellow blogger Todd Pettigrew, as well as several professors at the University of Regina say no.
“Project Hero,” the program implemented several weeks ago at U of R, provides free tuition for four years (as well as $1,000 for books) to the children of military personnel who have died in active duty.
But to Prof Pettigrew and the 16 professors who are protesting the scholarship program, Project Hero does more than just provide tuition—it glorifies war.
“It implies that military officers have a special status simply by virtue of being in the military,” writes Pettigrew. “It suggests that the whole class of people is to venerated, and that military service is a special calling to which only a select group of heroes can aspire.”
I’ll admit, the name “Project Hero” leaves little to the imagination. So how about we call it the “Military Dependent Scholarship?” Or the “Children of Deceased Veterans Bursary?” Problem solved, right?
With the word “hero” gone, you’d have to do a hell of a lot of extrapolation to get back to the glorification of soldiers, no? (I can already feel the vibration of goaded fingers.) How would the renamed scholarship glorify war any more than, say, wearing a poppy on Veterans Day?
One could argue I’m missing the “meta,” but I see the the scholarship simply as a way to provide tuition to children who have lost a parent, and by extension, a financial resource. Yes the families of fallen military personnel are compensated, but this program provides a fiscal opportunity specific to the pursuit of higher education. I’m sure the U of R professors would agree with me when I say that it’s a pursuit worth of encouraging.
I think it’s also worth noting that this scholarship isn’t for “Children of Military in Afghanistan.” Canadian troops just happen to be there at the moment. Military lives are lost in combat and in training, during battles of which Canadian citizens approve and many of which they do not. Funny–in World War II, when professors and academics were one of the first to be persecuted in Nazi-occupied Germany, Canadian soldiers fought against constricting pressures, allowing for academic freedom and freedom of speech, which, ironically, grants our professors the opportunity to object to Project Hero today. What would attitudes towards the program have been back in 1940? Should we only compensate the children of war casualties who fought for causes with which we agree?
Another overlooked point in this whole debate is that the children of many professors at Canadian universities pay reduced or no tuition if they enroll at an institution where a parent works. As long as we’re extrapolating, what message does that send? Let’s say a professor is a racist bigot who spews ignorant propaganda in lecture all day–do we deny his/her child the financial break because of what could be inferred from the subsidy?
Professor Pettigrew makes the very good point that it’s not just military personnel who risk their lives for others; police officers, firefighters and others put put themselves in danger each day for the public. And I completely agree. To go further, I think universities should provide scholarships for the children of those who have lost their lives in the line of public duty.
But, in the meantime, I think we should let these veterans’ kids have their break. Just as “glorifying war” churns the stomachs of these professors, politicizing the tragedies of Canadian military families leaves a bad feeling in mine.
University of Ottawa student union president wants to ban controversial writer and speaker from campus
“Fickle Students for Selective Free Speech?”
Yes, that’ll do nicely. After all, I think it’s about time we coin some sort of phrase to describe the exasperating irresolution of student leaders on the issue.
Free speech is good, right? Except when it comes certain stances on abortion, Israel/Palestine, and anything else that can otherwise make you uncomfortable or upset.
This week, it’s Ann Coulter, the notoriously controversial writer/speaker/columnist known for her right-wing opinions and provocative comments. Coulter is scheduled to speak at the University of Western Ontario Today and University of Calgary Thursday, but it’s Tomorrow’s visit to the University of Ottawa that has spawned a “Ban Coulter from Campus” Facebook group and disdain from SFUO president Seamus Wolfe.
“The federation does not support Ann Coulter speaking on our campus,” Wolfe told the Ottawa Citizen. “We’re trying to work with the administration to see if we can ask her to do her speaking event somewhere else.”
That’s not all. According to the Ottawa Citizen article, Wolfe has prohibited posters advertising the event from going up in the University Centre building.
It seems obvious to me that these are counter-productive resistance tactics. Not liking Ann Coulter—that, I get. But trying to keep her off campus? I’ll need a little help with that one.
If anything, U of O students should consider themselves lucky; they have home court advantage, strength in numbers (or so it seems, at least, from Wolfe’s comments) and the opportunity to challenge Coulter directly during a scheduled Q&A after her speech.
Censorship is nothing but a soggy band-aid. Why cover up contentious ideology when you can potentially reason it down to irrelevance?
If you really think Coulter spews ridiculous, insulting dribble, let her hang herself with her own words. It will be a lot more effective than putting tape over her mouth and insisting that she would have been offensive.
In a 2005 editorial, Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada, a national LGBT lobby group, summed up this view of censorship very succinctly. Referring to a homophobic letter printed in an Alberta newspaper by Pastor Stephen Boissoin in 2002, Marchildon writes:
While it is difficult to support Boissoin’s right to spew his misguided and vitriolic thoughts, support his right, we must.
If Boissoin was no longer able to share his views, then who might be next in also having their freedom of expression limited. Traditionally, the LGBT community’s freedom has been repressed by society and its laws.
Plus, it is far better that Boissoin expose his views than have them pushed underground. Under the glaring light of public scrutiny, his ideas will most likely wither and die.
Coulter’s views, too, should face the glaring light of public scrutiny. And our universities are just the places to house the debate. That is, unless our student nannies get in the way.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
On March 11, 2010, I was duped.
Yes, the collaborative efforts of the Canadian Federation of Students, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Polaris Institute got me.
Apparently, “Bottled Water Free Day” is nothing as it sounds. I know; I was shocked too! Not only did I not get my free bottle of water, but I found out that the very cap I untwist to seek refreshment can unearth a Pandora’s box of campus sin!
Defeated and embarrassed, I went home to mull over my misstep.
What was I missing? Clearly, Evian and Nestle were up to something dire; why else would student leaders be using my fees to campaign for something completely not student related?
Then I saw the press release: “Ryerson pledges to be first bottled water free campus in Ontario.”
OK, OK, something’s definitely going on; or else, why would my university pledge to eliminate all bottled water from campus? A band-aid move that reeks of appeasement? When everyone knows that prohibition will only create resentment? And that the way to get people to really align with your views is through reasoned argument and persuasion, not mandating its acceptance?
I stared at my half-empty Dasani. Oh, you’re trouble, aren’t you? That’s why my university has decided to stunt one of our few healthy consumer trends. Why the Ryerson Student Union has suddenly been granted the right to decide what others can purchase on campus?
Finally, after hours of reflection, I’m down to three possible conclusions:
• Bottled water was the root cause of the 5-3 upset suffered by the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team’s to the United States in Vancouver this past February
• The grooves on many water bottles somehow serve as capitalist symbols
• Bottled water is responsible for high tuition fees
Saturday, February 13, 2010
This post originally appeared February 9, 2010, at Maclean's OnCampus
Ryerson University, in all her racist glory, graced the front page of the Toronto Star Monday.
I know; I couldn’t believe it either. I didn’t know purgatorial images were allowed on the front page.
Well, nevermind. The real story is that a university-commissioned probe into campus racism identified serious issues at the school. Its 107-page report recommended specific and swift action to tackle the problems.
So, what were the issues? Well, some were of legitimate concern. The Task Force on Anti-Racism at Ryerson cited a few specific examples of harassment and vandalism, which, I agree, should be dealt with harshly and swiftly. But most of it? Hyperbole and pandering, I’m sorry to say. Obviously a task force committed to sniffing out racism will find something. They don’t want to be deemed useless, after all.
I’ve spent nearly four years at Ryerson and have personally found it to be one of the most multicultural, inclusive, and culturally sensitive institutions I’ve ever encountered. Sure, maybe that’s my complacency/privilege/ignorance speaking, but from what I’ve observed, the campus is fairly harmonious (which says a lot, considering it’s a university). Globe writer Marcus Gee shares my view. “Ryerson University is one of the most diverse and welcoming universities in the country, if not the world,” he writes. Gee continues:
Under president Sheldon Levy, Ryerson has bent over backward to celebrate and encourage diversity. The university already has active programs on employment equity, a special office to serve aboriginal students and a prayer space for Muslim worshippers. At the university’s Ted Rogers School of Management, five of the 11 faculty hired in 2008 were visible minorities, just short of its target of six. Other faculties are striving to bring up their numbers, too.
The Toronto Star ignored these details in its article. Here are the more… umm… poignant excerpts:
Some observant Muslim students complained teachers often use jokes about sex that can make them uncomfortable.
One professor who was teaching students how to modulate their voices for radio told the class to pretend they were having sex and to imagine the voice they heard when they experience “pleasure.” Other students joined in and began making “very weird noises,” leaving some students very uncomfortable.
This line’s a gem:
Others longed for teachers who look like them, especially aboriginal and black students.
And straight from students’ mouths:
“Professors don’t address issues of inappropriate language.”
“I think a lot of Jewish students don’t run for student leadership positions because of the hostile environment and so they don’t have to vote for anti-Israel resolutions.”
Hmm. So what? We should be hiring professors for their looks, not their qualifications? (I wonder if the Force will advocate on behalf of the few men in my program, who swim in a sea of aspiring women-journalist, for more professors who “look like them.”) And what of the inappropriate language? Sexual innuendos? Hurt feelings? I thought we were out of middle school.
University is not supposed to make you feel comfortable. Sorry. Stay at home if you want to be coddled. University is one of those unique places where individuals are encouraged to express their beliefs and challenge their assumptions. And yes, some will often be offended. Personally, I celebrate it. What better opportunity to explore your own preconceptions than face that which irks you? And if you don’t like it: avoid it, challenge it, but don’t stifle it. If university can’t be a sanctuary for free speech, what can be?
Compulsory anti-racism courses for staff and students, as recommended by the racism report, won’t fix anything. You can’t force out ideology with a couple obligatory lectures. And telling profs to babysit or keep it PG is a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Oddly enough, I’ll think we’ll end up homogenizing if we keep catering to the multiplicity of hurt feelings. The real world isn’t sterilized, why should university be?