On November 16th students marched across Trent University’s Symons Campus. This movement was a reaction to the feelings of many students that Trent was becoming an unsafe place. Trent’s history is rich with political discourse and protest, often mirroring the political issues of the moment.
The most famous event in Trent’s protest history occurred in the late ‘90s under Bonnie Patterson’s reign. Trent’s Board of Governors proposed, then approved a plan with SuperBuild Industries Ltd. that would demolish the downtown colleges of the time (Peter Robinson and Catharine Parr Traill), as well as construct a new residence on the main campus. Students protested by staging a sit-in at Patterson’s office, which led to their controversial arrests. This was highly publicized in the media at the time.
Trent’s history of political discourse and dissent towards dominant ideologies is as rich as its history of protest. This can be seen in recent years through the many reactions to the actions of the Trent Conservatives, starting with former TCSA president Braden Freer’s collusions with Trent Conservatives President Corey Leblanc in 2014-15, to Leblanc’s polarizing TCSA presidential campaign last school year.
The recent protest is building upon an established legacy of protest and dissent. This rally did not occurring solely because of the election of Donald Trump. Although the events that sparked this protest appear related to Trump’s win, the discrimination involved and reactions to the incidents on campus should not be taken at face value as something that will pass. Recent events are simply an indication of underlying issues within Trent as an institution.
The protest was organized by 1st year student Danielle Duplessis who cited “…discriminatory acts happening the last few months” as a reason for protest. The fact that this protest was successful, and was organized by a student in the beginning of their university career speaks to the atmosphere of our campus and the identity Trent represents. Duplessis also stated that she “wasn’t going to wait until her second or third year to step out against this. It’s a problem now.” This highlights the feelings of many marginalized students, and the fervent outrage at events both past and present.
Another protest organizer, Abbie Summers, stated that it is important to “stand in solidarity with people that feel marginalized and vulnerable.” Furthermore, she asserted that the protest created a statement toward those performing discriminatory acts that Trent students “will not accept any hateful dialogue”.
Shanese Steele, TCSA Anti-Racism Commissioner, stated that “students are coming together right now because we don’t want discrimination on our campus.” Shanese cited both contemporary events, namely “people running around with masks on screaming sexual slurs and pro-Trump stuff,” as well as past events, including a problematic poster circulating last spring stating that murdered and missing indigenous women did not present a serious problem, as well as swastikas drawn on the bridge during TCSA elections. These events sparked the protest. Shanese summarizes by saying, “There have been acts of discrimination on campus, and students are angry about that.”
Students involved in the protest cited similar concerns. 2nd year protestor Samm Medeiros stated, “This protest is happening because there’s been an idea that our school is safe. An idea that our school promotes justice and equality, but with the past things that have been happening, it looks like we are not actually meeting that idea that everyone shares.” This speaks to the divisiveness of political discourse on campus. Trent’s image as a progressive institution that promotes equity has become tenuous in the current political climate.
Alester Fernandes cited more specific acts of discrimination as reason for protest. “I’ve heard about a girl being attacked [and] there’s been a post that’s been circulating online about some Trump supporters going around with masks which triggered all of this.” This retelling of the reasons for protest adds to the myriad of concerns surrounding the safety of our campus and to the feeling of vulnerability plaguing marginalized groups.
The march was also a reaction to the perceived insufficiency of the response by the Trent administration. The university released a statement on the MyTrent bulletin that stated that “Trent is committed to providing every student with a university experience and environment free from discrimination, harassment and intimidation.” In the same post, the administration writes, “The University upholds academic freedom as another important value. Such freedom does not permit everything, but it does incorporate the freedom of discussion and debate…” To those made to feel unsafe, this response was not sufficient in providing reproach to those acting aggressively on campus. While Trent’s official post denounced hateful acts of discrimination, they implied in the same breath that the incidents reported to them were political discourse rather than simply hateful acts.
Abbie Summers called the reaction of the Trent administration “flimsy” and articulatedi that the university’s apparent aim was to “not take sides on a controversial issue, instead of standing with students to make them feel safe.”
Medeiros stated that “the administration are the leaders of Trent. They help create what we know as Trent, so to dismiss the feelings of students is bad.”
The protest itself was quite successful. It began with an acknowledgement of Indigenous land spoken by Shari Beaver who urged students that feel unsafe to report incidents to security. Each of the protest’s organizers then spoke. Ysabel Tuason outlined the rally’s community guidelines, making sure that all people attending knew the “event is anti-oppressive” and that “any oppressive events of any kind will not be tolerated.” Next, Duplessis thanked all of the people who helped organize, stating that their “actions have created a community of strength and resilience.”
Next, four speakers were invited to share their thoughts. The first was a poet and community member named E.J., who recounted a heartbreaking account of a cup of urine being thrown at her while the words, “nigger, go back to Africa” were shouted. She reminded students throughout that, “Allyship is not a coat you put on”.
Next, poet Niambe Lee recited two of their poems which were met with riotous applause. Their strongest statement, delivered at the end of their address, was “Being human is beautiful enough.”
TCSA’s Queer Commissioner Annette Pedlar spoke next. She reminded students of the issues that queer students face daily, explaining that, “queer students face micro-aggressions on a daily basis.” Annette spoke mostly from personal experience to show how marginalized peoples feel daily. She told the story of her queerness in order to highlight the difficulties of oppression, and subsequently, the implications of the incidents occurring on campus.
Finally, Roxanne Stanley from the Revolutionary Student Movement made a speech on allyship. “Sometimes being an ally is not enough,” he reminded attendees. “Sometimes high morals are not enough.” He later stated, “We must not let discrimination pass unchallenged.”
Following the speeches, students weaving a route across campus from LEC to Champlain, through the Great Hall, then across the Faryon Bridge and through the Science Complex, OC Cafeteria, and into the Gzowski lecture building. The march ended where it started, on Bata Podium.
Finally, protestors hand-delivered a list of demands to both President Leo Groarke and Associate VP Students Nona Robinson, both of which happened to have been absent from their offices at the time. These demands are just the first step towards reconciliation of the recent events on campus. Further discussion will be taking place, and a more comprehensive list of demands will be delivered to the university at a later date. This a part of a greater campaign created by the organizers to reach a consensus of fairness and safety on campus.
Following the protest, Arthur reached out to Nona Robinson for clarification of the university’s stance on the discriminatory events that sparked this protest. After multiple attempts to reach her, and a plethora of complaints by students, Robinson released a statement through the student affairs website containing a firmer tone than before. “Discrimination, harassment and intimidation have no place here.”
While not dismissing discriminatory incidents as free speech, the statement also clearly stated the problematic nature of reporting incidents stating that, “We also understand that for some students formally reporting incidents to security or to other administrative offices can be intimidating or challenging with respect to power dynamics.” This shows a step in the right direction towards reconciling the problems of discrimination seen on campus recently. However, the student body’s interpretation of this new response is yet to be seen. The full response can be read on Trent’s Student Affairs web page.
Furthermore, a portion of Trent faculty has also voiced its displeasure at the harassment seen on campus, and are standing in solidarity with those affected.
This started with Professor Feyzi Baban from the departments of International Development Studies and Politics. Provost Jackie Muldoon was chairing the Senate when Dr. Baban demanded that the President come forward and make a strong statement. “The university has to be open about what took place, if not, rumors will fly around and confuse people. The President should make a strong statement clarifying the institution and what is and is not tolerated on campus.”
Dr. May Chazan from the Gender and Women’s Studies Department subsequently consolidated the demands of the faculty in a statement visible on the previous page. This statement outlines the stance of many faculty members. Political debate is necessary, but when it intersects with hate speech, it ceases to be academic debate.
The protest, the reasons for it, and the reactions to it all indicate a changing political climate at Trent. This article aimed to outline what has happened in the past few weeks regarding discrimination faced on campus, and the subsequent outrage that these incidents incited. The specific events that have occurred recently are only one part of the greater political narrative occurring at Trent, and the coming weeks will surely add to this. On November 27th at Sadleir House, a community meeting will be held from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm to further discuss the what will be necessary to make Trent a fairer, more equitable place to learn.