Several weeks ago, in issue 15, I wrote my weekly editorial on the importance of nurturing responsible debate within our contemporary communities. Specifically, the editorial discussed how our public education system, from primary schools on through universities, should look to do more to encourage productive and respectful interaction between our young citizens.
Universities should be bastions of passionate, yet thoughtful, discussion involving a community of aspiring scholars and, for the most part, Trent’s student community has proven time and time again that it is both compassionate and open-minded.
One need only look at the many examples of positive political activism that have take place this academic year, from the recent Self Love Week activities, to the November’s incredibly successful Slut Walk, to the collaboration between TACSU and the TCSA for the Africa is Not a Country campaign, to Sustainable Trent’s ongoing fight to wean Trent off its fossil fuel investments, in order to understand that this university is full of student leaders looking for ways to shape their communities into better, more inclusive places.
Unfortunately, the recent political fallout from the screenshots concerning now former TCSA President Braden Freer and Trent Conservatives Vice-President Corey LeBlanc (see the cover of issue 18) has illuminated a darker side of Trent’s student culture and shown us first hand the dangers political discussion in the digital world.
Those following the heated debates that arose on Facebook last week undoubtedly witnessed repeated instances of online harassment, cyber-bullying, and outright disrespect for the opinions, beliefs, and identities of others. This behaviour was evident from multiple sources, including the hardline proponents of both sides of the political spectrum who sought to embellish their arguments using the usual reactionary partisanship and ad hominem attacks.
By Tuesday evening, less than 48 hours after Arthur’s issue 18 was published online, Pat and I were forced to remove three separate articles from Arthur’s Facebook page over fears that the comment sections had become hostile and unsafe environments for community discussion.
Even more frustrating was the fact that students and community members looking to contribute respectfully to the discussions were often being marginalized and targeted by those parties uninterested in productive debate.
Put bluntly, there is absolutely no place for harassment (be it physical, sexual, verbal, or cyber) within the Trent community, or within any community for that matter. The goal of political discussion, especially within a community of scholars, should be to broaden one’s intellectual understanding and expand one’s pre-established worldview.
As Trent students, regardless of discipline, we are continuously reminded of the necessity of open-minded inquiry and compassionate disagreement. Surely we should all be able to apply these ideals outside of the classroom and in our everyday lives.