An internet discussion board operated by the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU) was for nine days the host of a discriminatory attack that caught UTSC’s queer community off guard.
The discussion thread that started on Oct. 12 and was shut down more than a week ago began when someone under the nickname “Jesse Dirkhising” complained there was too much “promotion of gay rights” on the campus. He referred to the small black-and-white posters outside the SCSU office which depict same-sex couples embracing each other.
The writer claimed that homosexuality was being “shoved down his throat” and that one group, namely gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered, and queers, were being elevated above other groups at the university. His argument centered on the idea that his free speech was being quashed by the wave of preferential treatment of gays and “reverse discrimination.” As one of his remarks went, “why don’t YOU try being a white man in today’s society, where you’re blamed by society for all its problems, where you can’t get a job, even though you’re more qualified because it wouldn’t fulfill a certain quota, etc.”
The offensiveness of the remarks being made led anxious members of UTSC’s LGBTQ and other students to post to the thread, attempting to explain equity concepts as quickly as they could while trying to moderate between angry LGBTQ students and those complaining about the Positive Space campaign.
At one point, the person who made the original comments cut and pasted a 3,700 word, graphic news report about a 13-year-old boy who died tragically in the custody of an adult gay couple in the United States. The article used language which treated the homosexuality of the two men as going hand-in-hand with the statutory rape and murder of the child. The name of the boy was Jesse Dirkhising.
Many students complained about the hurtful remarks on the forum, and it was cut off on Oct. 21 (i.e. no one else could post to it). SCSU President Dan Bandurka posted a statement explaining that the thread was offensive, and that comments made did not represent the views of the student union.
The matter of whether to delete the thread completely was brought up the next day at an SCSU Board of Directors meeting, as per requests made by students. But the board voted the site stay up, with the justification that “the discussion generated within the gay rights thread could be used as an important educational tool to raise awareness and understanding.” As SAC staff Scott Tremblay explained, there was not enough time left in the meeting to give the matter their full attention, and the decision was made to keep it up in order that no one’s free speech would be infringed on.
Students, however, complained about the fact that the site was still there, since for them its existence amounted to harassment. The Standing Committee on Students and Equity recommended that the thread be removed and an apology be made, and the Board of Directors held an emergency meeting in which they rescinded their decision to keep the thread up. The thread was deleted, and a message was put up in its stead by SCSU’s VP Students Anjali Mohan explaining the action.
The forum was offensive to begin with, she states, because of its “Gay Rights” title. The term is inappropriate because it means that whether LGBTQ people should have rights is still up for debate. She also gave the reason that “SCSU relied on LGBTQ voices to educate the UTSC community instead of handling that ourselves; in doing so, we neglected to think of the other end of the spectrum and the individual answering these questions. In the attempt to aid in educating we ended up requiring many individuals from the LGBTQ community to validate their existence, clearly moving away from our initial goals.”
One of the problems that made the thread possible was the fact that no moderator existed for the site, so there was no control of what could be posted, and no one to resolve issues and intervene for students who could be injured by remarks that may be made. Student Affairs had recommended that a set of policies and procedures be put in place for moderation if the SCSU was to pursue forum-style discussion, but the SCSU opted against moderation in the interests of free expression.
The lack of education about equity policy was most evident in some remarks by Humanities Representative Jeff Rybak, in which he encouraged a student who asked if he could start a club that was anti-gay, to “consider all the options allowed by Student Affairs,” and that a club which happened to have an anti-gay stance among its other attributes might not be against the rules.
Another thread has since begun responding to Mohan’s statement. The SCSU is currently drafting a set of policies for moderation of their internet forums.