Moving Forward at McGill

24 Sep, 2012

Admittedly, when I first sat down to write a prediction of how this year would play, I didn’t expect it to come on the heels of a response made by Deputy Provost Mendelson towards the McGill Daily article “The Sound and the Fury” which he felt attacked “an upbeat, community-building” start to the year and spread inflammatory messaging contrary to McGill’s values.

For many it serves as a reminder of last year’s academic terms that were organized around demonstrations and strikes as much as they were around assignments and exams. From the MUNACA strike and the riot police’s arrival on campus, to the 6th floor occupiers and demonstrations against tuition hikes, many recall a constant unrest whose echo was the hateful speech that Deputy Provost Mendelson points to in the McGilly Daily’s column, Compendium.

While  Deputy Provost Mendelson is right to point out infractions of the Daily’s Statement of Principles and McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law – which calls for a “University community [that] shares responsibility for respecting the dignity of, and giving fair treatment to all members” – he fails to explain how we arrived at this point of polarization and what action should be expected of an administration which claims to be interested in promoting a welcoming environment for all McGillians.

Some will offer the same barbs that we simply study under an inner circle which would rather suppress students’ free speech than reach out and create dialog. That argument becomes a bit difficult to make after events such as the Milton Avenue Revolution Press closing down, the Dean of Law being tasked with recommending action that will improve campus discourse and administrative events, like a giant fruit salad and free barbeque, which only taste of outreach to new and returning students. But I still don’t believe that leaves the administration with a clean slate.

The administration’s true shortcoming last year was in failing to enforce the just rules which we voluntary agree to as free men and women who are not obligated to study at McGill. Indeed, many will recall the precedent set in February that a group of students could disrupt administrative work by occupying a James Administration office for ten days before being asked to leave without facing charges (I sometimes imagine that the next time something similar happens, occupiers will be asked to fill out a client satisfaction card and given Hilton Honours points). It seemed like one could simply disregard the rules that protect another student’s privileges on campus. The same could be said when the administration failed to come out forcefully against the racial epithet of “garlic-stained lips” on Michael Di Grappa’s Italian ethnicity. This slur was made by #Occupy6 protestors and published by the now defunct Milton Avenue Revolutionary Press.

It is especially this last incident that Provost Mendelson ought to be concerned with. Why is he surprised that a student journalist satirizing McGill’s World Record fruit salad would mock him by drawing fruit on his face in an accompanying photo when students can get away with insulting a sizeable community within this university, city, and country?

I don’t mean to suggest in any way that Provost Mendelson or any administrative official is blind or unsympathetic to these incidents. And at the same time I want to clearly state that I do not necessarily believe we need any more rules to prevent these incidents from occurring. All I am saying is that in order for our discourse to transcend hate speech and physical violence, our administration cannot merely enforce the rules the majority, or even the vast majority, of the time. Our rules need to be enforced all of the time with no selection bias.

The same goes for SSMU on the students’ side. New SSMU President Josh Redel has listed building better relations with the administration high on his agenda. This is a breath of fresh air following a term which saw the past VP External support groups like MOB Squad and appropriate funds towards the tuition strike movement at the expense of the general student body during the peak of classroom disruptions. But to accomplish his goal, Redel must also prove that radicals will not be above the rules that we all agree to accept.

Only in this manner will our university be a community of equals.



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