First of all, I’m sorry that the author(s) of this piece felt that the article I wrote on November 2 was not supportive of any individuals who have been impacted by what happened on Facebook, and I should have made that more clear.
I certainly want people to feel that the University is a resource to help students who are in distress, and I encourage any individuals who want to discuss this issue, or who want additional support, to contact me at [email protected]
I wrote the piece as a member of the Trent community, with no intention of hiding my administrative title. The article was intended to encourage all members of the University to engage civilly on social media, particularly when discussing controversial issues. This certainly includes individuals who, for whatever reason, engage in or enjoy provoking angry reactions, including through anonymous discriminatory attacks, to encourage them to have empathy that this can hurt others.
There are a number of complexities for the University, with respect to issues such as these. Our goal as an educational institution, especially in a context where we have very few powers of enforcement such as on Facebook, is to work to foster dialogue. One complexity is the demarcation between academic freedom and freedom of speech, and harm to individuals.
Jurisdiction can also be a challenge, including whether the University could be or should be monitoring or intervening in students’ use of social media. There is also the importance of respecting students as autonomous individuals and full members of the University community, with the rights and responsibilities that this entails. Another complexity is that any judicial case needs to respect the privacy and rights of all parties involved.
In response to complaints, the University has taken action to try and get the removal of the Trent University name and logo from Facebook groups that are not authorized to use them, because, as was said in the myTrent bulletin from Communications two weeks ago, the groups may not reflect our community.
Another paragraph in that bulletin that I would like to highlight is this one: “The vision for Trent is a dynamic university where students, researchers, faculty, and staff engage in a campus life free from discrimination and harassment.
We are proud that our community members are aware of their rights and responsibilities and are actively participating in eliminating discriminatory barriers. Trent
scholarship is informed by the principles of full and fair inquiry and all members of the community are participating and valued as equals.”
Within Trent student services, our own approach in terms of behavioural cases is to help students seek redress for any harm they have experienced, and to look for solutions that are reparative and which promote learning and understanding of the impact of a particular behaviour. This impact certainly includes people’s experiences with violence, prejudice, and marginalization.
While this approach is not possible in all cases, it does reflect our values around education, supporting students, and seeking solutions. More broadly, we want to help create an environment that
promotes mutual respect and the passionate exchange of ideas.
I am proud to work at a university that encourages and honours student activism. It is through the efforts of such students that many social changes are advanced. Effective discussion and debate on issues can hone understanding, and in some cases, change people’s minds. I am also keenly aware that this can involve a wide range of views, and requires effort to promote understanding and respect for each other. I reiterate that I hope that we can all rise to this challenge.
I encourage the author(s) of the Open Letter to contact me directly if they would like to follow this up further, as I’m very open to dialogue on these issues.
-Nona Robinson, Associate Vice President Students