Expression Against Oppression events give voice to marginalized students

Two week series of events raise awareness about mental health, LGBT students

Expression Against Oppression events give voice to marginalized students

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held a series of events over the past two weeks to raise awareness of marginalized voices on campus. The semi-annual Expression Against Oppression (XAO) was hosted by the Social Justice and Equity commission — one of five divisions within the UTSU — which is responsible for the planning and execution of six anti-oppression events spanning from October 21 to 30.

Yolen Bollo-Kamara, vice-president, equity of the UTSU, discussed XAO’s significance to the university. “The main idea for XAO is to try and cover as many different issues as we can,” she said. “Although the kinds of events vary each year, we are usually always able to do a Night of Expression, which is the one that really brings all of the events together.”

This year’s Night of Expression took place on Thursday October 24. According to Bollo-Kamara, it attracted spoken word and rap sets, along with a drag performance. “Everybody was very supportive, and it was definitely our largest crowd — although different events draw different people. We do look at the popularity of each event in determining what issues to cover, and we also encourage multiple student organizations to get involved with our events.”

This year’s XAO was held in conjunction with many different student groups that worked to not only enable a variety of perspectives, but to draw additional interest beyond social justice and equity. Each event collaborated with one other organization, including the African Students’ Association (ASA), Health and Wellness, LGBTOUT, Brazilian Culture in Canada (BRAZUCA), and the Community Safety Office.

The first week started with a women’s self-defence workshop, followed by VisibiliTEA, an evening of tea and crafts, along with a discussion surrounding the implications of queer women’s visibility on campus. The second week included a Brazilian martial arts workshop, a film screening, and a five-dollar lunch.

The film screening of Venus Noire told the story of Sarah Baartman, a South African woman infamously exhibited in a 19th century freak show in Europe because of her “exotic and unique” sexual features, such as her large buttocks and elongated labia. The film chronicled Baartman’s life as she struggled for independence in a newly abolitionist society. The screening was coordinated by Bollo-Kamara and ASA president Vanessa Jev, who was inspired to share the matter after seeing the film in her French culture studies class.

“I immediately thought the film was very controversial, yet representative of black culture in the media these days,” said Jev, “When you think about it, Sarah Baartman was the first video vixen. You really get to see the inner struggle from her perspective and how everything seems to defeat her. The film asks you to ask tough questions of yourself: is she really complicit? She is being exploited but is being given money at the same time for exposing her body. The movie really speaks to modern day issues.”

Third-year life sciences student Olayinka Sanusi, a member of the ASA, agreed that the film encouraged a critical reflection of racial inequity: “Looking at her body in a sexual manner is oppression, and it’s important that this was a real event in history. I like the fact that I can come to these kinds of events on campus and learn to further express myself by talking about the common problems my community faces.”

Another highlight of this semester’s events was the five dollar lunch at Hart House, which focused on raising mental health awareness on campus. The UTSU partnered with U of T’s Health and Wellness Centre, as well as other related student groups, for a resource fair that aimed to provide support and information on mental health issues. In the hall outside the lunch, many students had the opportunity to engage with representatives from student associations such as Peers are Here, Powerful Minds at U of T, Active Minds at U of T, and Let’s Talk Health.

The lunch itself attracted many students who hadn’t heard of the XAO event itself, but showed interest in the presentations at the front of the Great Hall. “The lunch is a great price and it will definitely attract lots of people to find out about new activities and groups on campus,” said Tracey Zhao, a third-year economics student.

The main goal of this semester’s XAO events was to eliminate the stigma surrounding various social issues, and to foster a more inclusive environment both on and off campus.

There is no quick fix for rape culture

Advising young women to abstain from drinking is not the answer

There is no quick fix for rape culture

If you’re a prudent young woman looking to avoid sexual assault, Margaret Wente has some “common sense advice” for you: “Don’t get drunk.” After all, some studies report that over 80 per cent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol abuse. For Wente, the most effective way to combat rape culture is to ask women to stop binge drinking.



On the surface, this advice seems rational.  If drunk women are more likely to be sexually assaulted, then the best way to challenge rape culture is to ditch the booze. Wente’s solution seems to be a simple panacea for a very complex issue. And yet, somehow, it all seems too good to be true.

Even assuming we could get women to stop drinking — which, I think I can safely say, we can’t — we would need to answer an obvious question:  why are we asking women to abstain from alcohol if it is men who break the law and commit rape under its influence? I’m sure some will call me a romantic idealist. They’ll argue that like it or not, rapists are out there — and we’d better empower women to avoid them.  To an extent, I agree that it is problematic to deal in the realm of “how it should be” rather than “how it is.” However, there is a fundamental, practical problem with placing the onus of rape prevention exclusively on
women: it sends the wrong message to young men.

If we lazily claim that boys will be boys, we perpetuate the idea that men’s sexual aggression is explicable and inevitable. Furthermore, we implicitly suggest that the drunk woman has failed in her responsibility to protect herself, has made herself an easy target through her own lack of prudence — that rape is for a woman to avoid, rather than for a man to avoid committing.

Implicitly, Wente argues that the rape victim’s indiscretion makes her somehow complicit in the crime. It is a narrative that is all too familiar and all too toxic. Sexual assault already fosters a sense of guilt and self-blame in the victim. Perhaps, this explains why so few incidents are actually reported. Culturally, therefore, we need to foster and reinforce the truth that rapists are the sole cause of rape, and that no one’s behavior, regardless of gender, ever invites or legitimizes sexual assault.

If we don’t change our cultural narrative around sexual assault, how can we challenge rape culture?  Women aren’t about to stop drinking, and they should feel free to dress promiscuously. As U of T law professor Brenda Cossman argues in her October 8 piece for The Globe and Mail, even significant changes in the legal system have not significantly altered the sexual assault rate in this country.

While we can’t reasonably stop women from drinking, we can teach young men to understand that stop means stop, no matter how a woman is dressed and no matter how drunk she is.

We need to embrace and maintain the narrative that sexual assault victims are just that — victims. And Wente’s argument is fundamentally counterproductive to that goal. Of course, this narrative won’t end sexual assault; rapists will always stalk the streets. But it is a narrative that we can foster among our sons — a narrative that, had it been properly in place, might have given pause to the boys who assaulted Rehtaeh Parsons.  To my mind, that is something worth fighting for.

Devyn Noonan is a third-year English student.

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Following two weeks of silence, U of T answers some questions on controversial all-women’s residence

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Earlier this month, in an investigation by The Varsity, former residents at Loretto College raised concerns about the college’s policies and its residence atmosphere. Loretto is a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The Varsity spoke to former residents who were uncomfortable with the conservative policies and tone of the residence and the requirement that they formally agree to live in a “Christian academic community.” Under the University of Toronto’s residence guarantee policy, some students also faced a choice between living in Loretto and not living in residence at all. The university has now clarified its position on some of the questions raised by the investigation, although significant questions remain unanswered.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications, was asked whether women could have been placed in Loretto without requesting it in the first place. Kurts explained that there are higher demands for particular residences than can be met. When this is the case, Housing Services identifies other residences that have open spaces, and offers students a place within these alternative residences. “This means that any student may be offered a space in a residence that they did not select as their choice. This would be as true for Loretto as any other U of T residence,” he said. If a student chooses to decline this offer, they are placed on a waitlist for their first choice residence. Kurts acknowledged that the likelihood of getting a spot in one’s first choice residence after being placed on a waitlist was “very low.” A number of the girls interviewed during The Varsity’s investigation said they felt uncomfortable signing the residence agreement but were told that no other option was available. Some elected not to sign the residence agreement and found off-campus housing.

Kurts further clarified that all U of T policies are in effect at Loretto College, as it is affiliated with the university, and that while they do not have an exact number of girls who did not select Loretto as their first choice, “the number is small, and likely fewer than five.” The Varsity interviewed more than a dozen girls, who entered across multiple years, and indicated that they did not select Loretto as a first choice.

The SMC residence office said that all Arts & Science students who are a part of SMC are offered both a spot in Loretto and a spot in SMC proper, but the same does not seem to be true for professional faculty students, who are dealt with separately. Many of the engineering students interviewed during the course of the investigation claimed they were told they would be offered spots in both Loretto and SMC. However, when they were offered spots in Loretto and inquired about the alternate offer,  they were told none was available.

When asked what would happen if a student was uncomfortable with the religious aspects of living at Loretto, Kurts said that an attempt would be made to find another space. However, he warned: “Most often than ever, our residences are full to capacity and there may be no other spaces available.”

Meanwhile, Angela Convertini, dean of residence at Loretto College, said she felt that no students were forced into Loretto. When asked about why the residence agreement was not made available online, Convertini explained that as a  smaller residence, Loretto does not have access to a webmaster and therefore is unable to maintain a separate website containing its residence agreement.

Convertini claimed women have as much knowledge about Loretto as any other residence: “We have people come by and tour the residence, look over the residence agreement, and understand what they’re getting into. Many of the women quoted in the article never came to us with any problems…they were made fully aware of the nature of the residence and the environment in which they were choosing to live.”

Alice, you’ve gone far

What Alice Munro's recent Nobel Prize win means for Canadian writers

Alice, you’ve gone far

Last Thursday, celebrated Canadian author Alice Munro was declared winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the first-ever female Canadian to win the award, and only the 13th woman to do so since the prize’s founding in 1901. Upon hearing the news, she said she was “delighted” and “terribly surprised.” At least, that was her reaction when the Swedish Academy finally got hold of her.

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

Munro is hailed as the master of the contemporary short story, and has indeed almost exclusively stuck to the genre; all of her collections — apart from Lives of Girls and Women — are part of this genre. From the Governor General’s Award in 1968 to the Man Booker Prize in 2009, the list of accolades to Munro’s name continues to grow. In the past half-century, Munro has been a perennial presence on both the Canadian and international literary scenes.

Most of her stories are set in the small towns of Huron County, Ontario, where she was born. While her writing has a local focus, Munro’s complex characters, ambiguous plot, and often disconcerting depictions of human tensions and relationships transcend regional associations. She has captivated an international audience with her unapologetically revealing portrayal of everyday life.

Nicknamed the “Canadian Chekhov,” Munro scrutinizes the small-town life of seemingly ordinary characters, gradually peeling back layers of outward domestic bliss. She gives readers a glimpse into a world that is intensely private.

Though Munro has written extensively about domestic life, she was once told that her work was not serious enough to merit consideration. When first establishing herself as a writer, she faced much condescension, and was dismissed as a housewife whose material was domestic and boring. She was encroaching upon male-dominated territory — criticized by an overwhelmingly male audience — and wrote stories that showed her deep frustration with society’s restrictive gender norms. In her writing, the tension between male and female characters continues to be central to much of her portrayal of familial strife.

Now that a Canadian has reached the pinnacle of literary achievement, some questions are raised as to the overall quality of Canadian literature and how other Canadians may fare in the future. Revered for novels like Surfacing and The Year of the Flood, Victoria College alumna and long-time friend of Munro, Margaret Atwood touches on similar issues of gender dynamics and the volatile relationships people have with nature in her work. Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of the Governor General’s Award-winning, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) or Yann Martel — best known for his novel-gone-blockbuster Life of Pi, and his frostily received allegory, Beatrice and Virgil — are also possible contenders. It would appear to be a bright new day for Canadian writers, but, I suppose only time will tell. For now, congratulations Alice.


Sonia Liang is a second-year student studying English and political science.

Russia’s deep internal divide

Political differences are to blame for civil rights issues, but is an Olympic boycott the right approach?

Russia’s deep internal divide

The initial reaction of many in the West to Russian President Vladimir Putin signing laws to ban homosexual propaganda was outrage. Soon thereafter, many began to talk about boycotting the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. To do so would be the height of foolishness and serve only to further the cause of illiberalism in Russia.

Russia has become increasingly polarized between an emerging urban elite — whose values can easily be recognized in Canada — and a more rural traditional population  for whom conservative mores hold far greater sway.



When Putin was first elected, he was welcomed by all as the answer to the chaos of Boris Yeltsin’s administration. As time has gone on, the West has become increasingly frustrated with Putin’s hard-line defense of Russian interests internationally. Meanwhile, Russia’s more liberal middle classes have become more and more frustrated by the corruption in Russian society.

Putin has therefore come to rely increasingly on an unsophisticated rural class for popular support. Putin’s cultivation of an ultra-masculine image for himself is clearly an effort to appeal to this class. Whether driving a truck across Siberia or shooting tigers, Putin constantly attempts to portray himself as a defender of traditional Russian culture and values against the United States.

Western intervention and commentary has continually irked both Putin and his conservative political base. The passage of the Magnitsky Act by the United States Congress, designed to bring the corruption and lack of justice in Russia to light, appears to that country’s conservatives as an attempt by a recent enemy to meddle in Russia’s affairs. Meanwhile, efforts in the West to brand Putin as a tin pot dictator, along the lines of Muammar Gaddafi or Kim Jong-un, and efforts by the U.S. to encourage dissent within Russia have threatened the continued survival of Putin’s government. Forced by this challenge to shore up support while increasingly seeing the US as against him, Putin has had to fight tooth and nail against America’s efforts.

Putin seeks to maintain his position in power, while gaining international support for himself and for Russia as an influential force in world affairs. While the liberal classes in Russia will not support Putin regardless of his actions, Russia’s rural conservatives are only likely to care about issues of traditional morality when they are forced to pay attention, such as following the recent arrest of the band Pussy Riot for playing offensive music in a church, or the recent talk of boycotting the Sochi Olympics. Like Putin, the conservatives are interested in furthering Russia’s respectability and influence in the world.

Canada has a special role to play; while the conservative base upon which Putin depends still harbors deep suspicions about the United States and many Western European countries, Canada and Russia have many shared interests. The Arctic, for instance, has become a new battleground in international diplomacy. By working to reach accords with Russia on issues like Arctic sovereignty and access to the newly opening Northeast and Northwest Passages, ordinary Russians can begin to see the West as a partner to work with and learn from, rather than as an enemy to oppose. While the recent news out of Russia is deeply disturbing and should be addressed, walking away from the Olympic games is not the best way for the West to demonstrate its dissatisfaction. Boycotting the games would be perceived as a Western affront to traditional Russian morals. The West could accomplish more by focusing on what they have in common with Russia to bring the country forward, rather than denying the opportunity to have conversation.


Jeffrey Schulman is a first-year student at Trinity College.

Hart House celebrates new installation and updated art collection

New exhibit includes installation by Céline Condorelli, works chosen to reflect the merging of old with new

Hart House celebrates new installation and updated art collection

Last Thursday, Hart House held an event  in the Music Room celebrating the latest additions to the Hart House Art Collection. This year’s collection includes a greater variety of art than those of previous years; the integration of more Aboriginal art was something the curatorial team had been striving towards. The night was also dedicated to celebrating the launch of artist and architect Céline Condorelli’s commissioned installation, “The Company We Keep.”

I arrived to see a room of people enjoying drinks and conversation, awaiting an introduction to the night. With a backdrop of glowing red light, Hart House warden Bruce Kidd made opening comments about the history of the building. Curator-in-Residence Wanda Nanibush spoke about the collective effort to incorporate a wider spectrum of art to accurately realize Canadian identities within Hart House. She explained that each space is uniquely curated with thoughts and themes, marrying artists with activists.

As everyone split to explore the works, the rich juxtaposition of old and new was hard to ignore. Seeing contemporary art hanging within Hart  House’s historic architecture offered a visual narrative of Canada’s cultural history. The pieces in the collection demonstrate how that history can be expressed in various forms, then understood collectively.

Céline Condorelli’s new installation at Hart House, "The Company We Keep."

Céline Condorelli’s new installation at Hart House, “The Company We Keep.”

“The Company We Keep” is composed of 20 light bulbs scattered throughout the building, all holding fragments of a phrase exploring the support structure of friendships — specifically female friendships. Condorelli says that the installation “has to do with practicalities, things as simple as having a friend to lean on, all the things we normally don’t think about that help your everyday life.” The project refers to the historical absence of women from Hart House. When thinking of the shadows that the words create, we’re also thinking about women “in the shadows” of Hart House. Condorelli continued to explain her interest in creating something that could be integrated into the daily life of Hart House, taking elements of the architecture and intervening without imposing.

I walked back into the Music Room, and noticed the lights had been dimmed to near extinction. Toronto-based music collective LAL’s live performance caressed the room. Rosina Kazi sang barefoot and beautifully, Nicholas Murray was huddled over his turntable.

BarnickeGallery98-Julia Malowany

Goosebumps covered more of my skin than all my layers of clothes, and I was brought back to the theme of new merging old. As Kazi sang about topics of social justice and politics — mentioning “Idle No More” — I considered how the contemporary is motivated by the historical. As the Art Committee has expanded its focus to include various types of art and various Canadian identities, LAL closed the night addressing our own history, exemplifying how art can help influence and improve today.

The Question: Should academics be expected to censor their personal biases?

The Question: Should academics be expected to censor their personal biases?
Rally attendees festooned the statue of Northrop Frye outside Victoria College. DENIS OSIPOV/THE VARSITY

Rally attendees festooned the statue of Northrop Frye outside Victoria College. DENIS OSIPOV/THE VARSITY


Gilmour’s comments not a signal to ban professors’ opinions from classroom

The recent backlash that resulted from an interview that lecturer David Gilmour gave two weeks ago has raised some important questions about whether educators should share their opinions or keep their personal feelings to themselves. While the Gilmour scandal is a reminder that words should be chosen carefully, it should not be considered a sign that intellectuals’ personal opinions should be left out of the classroom.

To some extent, all course syllabi are representative of the tastes or opinions of the professors who created them. Gaining insight into the logic behind text choices and teaching perspectives is valuable; professors’ opinions can contextualize course material and often make a course more interesting. That being said, setting a syllabus is a privilege, and it comes with responsibility. Perhaps Gilmour’s comments provoked an inflamed response not because of what he said, but how he chose to phrase it. He stated that he only teaches works of authors he truly loves, since those are the works he teaches best. Instead of leaving it at that, a  relatively unprovocative statement, he chose to further characterize his choice on the basis of gender, age, race, and sexual orientation — referring to authors that do not resonate with him in terms that could easily be perceived as discriminatory. The descriptive language that Gilmour chose was inflammatory, but his initial rationale makes sense — he teaches what he does because it is what he teaches best.

Professors should not be forced to teach subjects they have no personal interest in. If Gilmour is not passionate about female authors, then it stands to reason that his class would not be the best setting in which to be educated on them. In many ways, Gilmour’s syllabus is the product of him playing to his strengths and admitting his weaknesses.

As a female student who took David Gilmour’s first-year seminar, I enjoyed the course. Professor Gilmour actively gave his opinions and explained the choices of works through personal anecdotes and, in doing so, made the class intriguing, aggravating, and amusing. It did not matter whether you hated or loved his comments, he welcomed opinions and arguments from all of his students, even if they clashed with his own.

The courses that Gilmour teaches do not profess to be all-encompassing samples of literary greatness, and would probably be more appropriately titled: “The World According to Gilmour.” For those who cannot reconcile the value of education with the personality of the professor, the good news is that Gilmour teaches two half-year elective courses — which makes opting-out of the Gilmour experience easy for most. For those who do choose his courses, they provide a unique, albeit sometimes exacerbating, educational experience.

Exposure to conflicting opinions is part of education, and — as Margaret Atwood stated in response to the scandal — “Universities are places where many things are taught, and where free expression of opinion is encouraged.” All professors, David Gilmour included, should be free to respectfully give their personal opinions, as long as we as students remain free to express ours.

Samantha Relich is a third-year student studying criminology and political science. 


David Gilmour scandal reveals holes in the university’s hiring policies

As I scrolled through my Twitter timeline the other day, one thing became abundantly clear: people are really mad at David Gilmour. Quoted in a Hazlitt interview, Gilmour said: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women”, and later, that: “If you want women writers, go down the hall.” He also spoke of his dislike for Canadian and Chinese authors, which naturally narrows down his syllabus to: “…Guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”

I currently study at Victoria College, where Gilmour is a lecturer, and have had many friends go through his classes. They speak highly of him, saying that he is quirky and brilliant — he did win the Governor General’s Literary Award, after all.

I am not angry with what Gilmour had to say, and I do not think he is racist or sexist. In his defense he just: “teach[es] the people that [he] truly, truly love[s].” I do, however, think that if there is an issue here, it is the matter of equity in the classroom.

This incident has brought to light hiring practices which do not seem conducive to the university’s own human rights’ equity policy, which supposedly “acknowledges that it conducts its teaching, research and other activities in the context of a richly diverse society.” Gilmour’s class does not acknowledge this, and the way he was hired — with a blank check for curriculum development — does not either.

Ironically, U of T is hell-bent on requiring students to fulfill “breadth requirements,” categorized mandatory classes which lead students back into the perils of math in the hope of making them more well-rounded. You would think the university would aim for the same thing regarding the diversity of opinion within the classroom: a balanced perspective of a topic.

It seems Gilmour has also forgotten about the diplomacy required of public figures like himself. His apology interview in the National Post was frankly a disaster, as he said he “Normally… actually wouldn’t” and he doesn’t, “…want [his] teaching reputation besmirched.” Amusingly, he noted that he would not “…want people not buying [his] book because they think that’s the position [he] hold[s] in the world.”

The negative light being shone on the U of T community as a whole, due to Gilmour’s actions, is upsetting. Ours is a campus where a premium is placed on equity and fairness, two values David Gilmour seemed to forget during his interview. However, the university should take something positive out of this situation and review its hiring practices in order to provide students with not only a good education, but a tolerant one — filled with different perspectives. Students will always be more engaged in a class taught by someone interesting, someone they can relate to. David Gilmour just did what he was hired to do, but then why was David Gilmour hired in the first place?

Max Stern is a second-year student studying both peace, conflict, and justice studies and Canadian studies.


Censorship in academia: is there no room for different opinions?

The recent controversy surrounding David Gilmour, an author and lecturer at Victoria College, has a number of people fuming over comments he made in an interview with Hazlitt magazine. In the world of academia, scholars are expected to spend years developing informed opinions, so it is strange that Gilmour is being reprimanded for explaining his choice of readings for his syllabus. What is even stranger is that he has not said anything overtly discriminatory.

In the interview transcript, he is recorded saying: “…when I was given this job, I said I would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.” In response, some in the literary world — as well as students across campus — have characterized his remarks as being both racist and sexist.

Consider this: perhaps none of the authors Gilmour enjoys teaching are Chinese because he was never taught about any of them. With a degree in French literature, it is not hard to imagine that Gilmour has probably never learned anything about Chinese writing. How many of us, regardless of our love for diversity and literature, have a favourite piece of writing from every single racial and ethnic group in this world? Yet nobody would accuse someone of being a racist for not appreciating literature from any specific culture.

As for the alleged sexism, Gilmour never implied that female writers were inferior or incapable of producing great writing. In fact, he stated that he loves and appreciates Virginia Woolf. Gilmour’s preference for male authors is hardly suspicious; we all enjoy characters and authors we can relate to.

At one of the more contentious points of the interview, Gilmour says: “What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys…Real guy-guys.” In response to accusations of homophobia, Gilmour has explained that he spoke in jest and that without context, print articles misrepresent his comments. After all, he teaches  Truman Capote. In fact, even the “serious, heterosexual guys” Gilmour loves are not what most people would consider to represent the epitome of masculinity. For instance, he teaches Raymond Carver, whose stories focus on the realities of love and relationships. Exploring sensitive and emotional topics does not follow the overt, traditional masculinity Gilmour appears to be championing in the interview.

The only real mistake that Gilmour made during the interview was not choosing his words more carefully. Yes, he said that he teaches only the “best,” which implies that only white, straight men can produce top-notch work. But literature is subjective. What Gilmour, you, or I believe to be the “best” could be considered a piece of overrated garbage to another.

Gilmour and other academics are not obliged to suppress their personal opinions in public — short of outright bigotry — indeed, they should be encouraged to share their perspectives. After all, academia is supposed to be based on competing ideas.

Sophie Zhou is a second-year student studying English, history, and literary studies.

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour’s comments draw criticism from administration, students’ union

Lecturer “not interested” in teaching works of queer, female, or Chinese writers

David Gilmour has come under fire in the past few days following an interview with Hazlitt, in which he indicated his preference for teaching the works of heterosexual male authors. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has criticized both Gilmour and the U of T administration’s response to the ongoing controversy. Gilmour is a sessional instructor at U of T.

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women,” said Gilmour in the Hazlitt interview.

In an email to The Varsity, Yollen Bollo-Kamara, the union’s vice-president, equity, stated: “David Gilmour’s comments were absolutely offensive and unconscionable. The University should take immediate action to ensure that concerns of hundreds of members of the university community are adequately addressed. We all have the right to a safe, inclusive learning environment.”

Scott Prudham, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, joined a number of university figures in distancing themselves from Gilmour’s statements: “These comments fail in the most fundamental way to respect and reflect the great cultural and intellectual diversity of this institution, this community, and the Faculty Association itself. While Mr. Gilmour may well choose the books he wants to teach based on his expertise as a teacher and a writer, one would hope he would choose his words more carefully in both capacities, not least out of respect for his colleagues and his students.”

Angela Esterhammer, an English professor and principal of Victoria College, praised Gilmour’s professional pedigree, describing him as a part-time instructor who “brings his professional accomplishments as a Governor General’s Award-winning novelist and film critic to his teaching role.” Esterhammer outlined the fact that Gilmour has since apologized to students and staff, and that many people, including the Victoria College administration, have stated that they do not share Gilmour’s views.

Esterhammer concluded by defending the course offerings at U of T, which she described as “without parallel” for their range and diversity: ”David Gilmour’s seminar ‘Love, Sex, and Death in Short Fiction’ is an optional course that students may take at Victoria College. It is one among hundreds of course offerings in literature at the University of Toronto and its Colleges, which include survey courses as well as small, focused seminars. These course offerings are incredibly diverse as to culture, gender, form, period, content, and approach.”

Thursday morning, roughly 50 students attended a rally at Victoria to show their support.

Andrea Day and Miram Novick, two U of T graduate students who organized the rally, called on attendees to “show [our] support for the omission of unserious people like women, queer folks, and writers of colour (especially Chinese writers) from university syllabi.”

U of T issued a statement Thursday outlining their stance on Gilmour’s statements: “One might hope that, in a university environment, teachers would encourage respectful airing of differences of opinion, and that, by airing their own views in a respectful way, they would encourage students to examine critically their own beliefs as well as those of their teachers and classmates.”

The statement outlined the fact that Gilmour has repeatedly apologized for his statements, and that the university had heard from students, faculty, and staff who were “dismayed” by his statements. “The University and Victoria College will also ensure that students in his class are under no misapprehensions that Mr. Gilmour’s literary preferences may be translated into assumptions about their innate abilities,” it read.

This statement also drew harsh criticism from the students’ union. “We are very disappointed in the statement released by the University this evening,” said Bollo-Kamara, “It is frustrating that the University does not acknowledge the impact that Mr. Gilmour’s words may have on the large part of our population who are women, Chinese, or do not identify as heterosexual.”


With files from Kate McCullough.