To say that there has been a bit of tension at Trent in the weeks following the November 8th election of Donald Trump would be an understatement. During this period there have been protests on campus that have garnered national attention, rumours of late-night alt-right revelry, student assemblies, administrative rhetoric, a statement issued by the university President, and a faction of faculty and staff coming together to express support for student interests.
Amongst the chaos, Arthur has done its best to stay on top of the fast-moving politics at our school. We have had the opportunity to meet with members of both sides of various ongoing debates, and have attended a number of events that have added to the November tension. Arthur spoke to a first year student out of Gzowski college, Kari Boyd, who was the first person to witness and report the mystery of the hooded men running around campus yelling some of the… less family-friendly slogans from Donald Trump’s wild campaign in the early a.m. of November 9th.
“As someone who’s been assaulted before a few weeks prior to this, it shook me. I thought, what’s going to happen on campus? With Trump being elected, do people think that they can just get away with anything now? Seeing Trump get away with the things he did, I’m afraid that people are going to think they can do it too.”
Boyd went on to describe what she had seen and heard that night, and then went over what sounded like a long and arduous journey with campus security.
“We checked all the cameras and we didn’t see anything.” This is the answer that security gave Boyd the day after her initial report.
Boyd’s incident was the first flake in an issue that has now snowballed. A week after Boyd posted on her Facebook about the incident, it was off of security’s agenda. That same week, the protest group Make Trent Safe materialized on the Bata podium before marching around the campus chanting things such as “not my campus”. This movement garnered national attention as students and community members came together to fight adversity and violence against minorities of every variety.
This event, and the subsequent call for action that is the foundation of Make Trent Safe, is what prompted university President Dr. Leo Groarke to draft a statement directed at all students.
When prompted to comment on President Groarke’s statement following the protest, Boyd said she was “shaken up” after reading it:
“In the paragraph where he specifically talks about how people are going around trying to spread fear, I felt personally attacked, in that people knew it was me who reported this and I thought everyone was going to think I lied, and started a rumour, because the president said so.”
While Dr. Groarke did not single out any one student or group, the President says it is important in this delicate situation to understand the difference between this specific usage of “rumour” and “fact”, stating that it was never his intention to discredit any of these incidents reported, or those involved.
After speaking with Boyd, Arthur met with Dr. Groarke to gain a better understanding of his perspective as expressed in the official statement that making waves in the Trent community.
“I think it’s important to put the statement into context first. I just hope it’s clear; I welcome the discussion of these issues. There are different groups with different opinions, and I welcome the discussion, and whatever action follows from that.”
Arthur took this opportunity to point out that a considerable number of Trent community members, including Boyd and those affiliated with the Make Trent Safe movement, have expressed concern and even distaste at the statement, which has been criticized as “dismissive”.
“I don’t see how anybody could be coming to these conclusions from my statement. The statement makes it very clear that the university does not tolerate any sort of hate speech. There is no tolerance for that at Trent University, and I think that was clear.”
When asked to respond to those who believe that these issues are being brushed off by administration with no action being taken, President Groarke expressed surprise.
“I would just have to disagree. Every incident that has been reported has been investigated thoroughly, and it does have to be investigated. There are different groups that are complaining to me, and the administration, and I should say, that there are accusations regarding both groups on either side. Not just one group.”
As far as action being taken by administration as a whole, Groarke points out that there has been a huge effort to make sure there are comfortable ways for people to report incidents to campus security such as going through the TCSA.
With hopes to cut to the core of the issue, Arthur asked the President to comment on difference between free speech and hate speech, especially regarding dissenting political arguments, and other similarly sensitive issues.
“There are established rules and regulations in Canada, both in law and in policy at many institutions. I do think it’s important to say that you’re not committing hate speech just because you say something that someone else doesn’t like, or offends them. But overall, if you have some unpopular views on any subject, at what point do you no longer have the right to to express those views? That’s a complicated question, but if you start to become too stereotypical or aggressive towards a certain group, that’s when you begin to cross the line. However, the first thing you teach people when teaching about freedom of expression is, it is not absolute. People think it means you can say anything anywhere. It does not mean that, and it has never meant that.”
Dr. Groarke also expressed that it should be taken into consideration that there is something to be said about those who have expressed unpopular views around campus and are now being bullied for their expression.
“As President, I’m trying to be fair to everyone.”
This past Sunday, a Stay Safe PTBO assembly was organized at Sadleir House by Trent students and alum hosting close to forty supporters from Trent, Fleming, Peterborough residents, OPIRG members, and a representative from the Black Lives Matter movement. The ultimate goal for this assembly was to address the statement issued by President Groarke and make Peterborough a safe community for all types of people.
“We’re not asking for these people to be charged, we just want a statement issued that says ‘we care about the safety of these people’,” said one distressed community member.
“Taking zero stance on discrimination is really not okay” lamented another attendee while commenting on the President’s statements.
During opening introductions, one member expressed their wish to “push back against the nightmare” and to “challenge institutions”. May this finally be something that we can all agree is healthy in one way or another? Is it so different from the revolutionary Canada of the 1960s, built on challenging, and pushing back against injustice?
An organizer of the event spoke to their feelings that the President’s statement amounted to “gas-lighting”, and that it carried an undertone to the effect of “this doesn’t happen, we do not believe you.”
While some were in attendance to declare their allegiances in the debate, it is worth noting that some came to the event simply to learn more. There was a palpable curiosity among some about what it means to be a minority in Peterborough, about the challenges that come with various labels, and about how they can live more responsibly in light of this knowledge.
Tensions remain high at Trent, with no sign of things cooling down anytime soon. In this debate about the grey area between hate speech and free speech, there is a rising sense that opposing factions are only digging their heels in deeper.
Can a consensus, or at least a truce, be reached anytime soon? Is there any arena in which a reasonable and respectable debate might be held? This was the way matters were decided not so long ago, before this American election that seems to have changed