David Gilmour’s comments in an interview with Hazlitt last Wednesday met with controversy and disapproval from some students. On Friday, the conflict escalated with a student-organized rally in front of the Northrop Frye statue at Victoria College. The location was chosen strategically. Gilmour teaches at Victoria College and was a student of Frye, who is said to be one of the most influential Canadian literary critics and theorists of the twentieth century. The rally, entitled “Serious Heterosexual Guys for Serious Literary Scholarship,” was organized largely over Facebook by two U of T graduate students, Andrea Day and Miriam Novick. The rally gained significant media attention. In the Facebook event for the rally, Day and Novick called the 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.”
The rally consisted of the organizers, as well as members and students of the English department, reading out passages from novels by female, queer, and minority authors, all of whom Gilmour stated he was “not interested in teaching.” Anthony Oliveira, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that he was “glad to be a part of an event where authors that Gilmour does not think are worth studying are being heard.” The protesters chanted “Gilmour, read more” throughout the rally, and encouraged the crowd of about 50 people to use social media to post about the protest. Major media outlets including CBC, City TV, and GlobalTV attended the event.
Day, a PhD student in the English department, told The Varsity that she and Novick decided to organize the rally largely for pedagogical reasons. “We were very frustrated with the idea that someone’s personal biases can direct not only what they teach but also their students’ experiences in a survey course. Late twentieth century short fiction is incredibly diverse, with plenty of people of colour, women, queer, and trans people. The idea that only white straight men have something to say in that avenue is very upsetting,” she said. Day added that she was impressed that the university called for collegiality, and that neither she nor Novick are asking for his job. She stressed that the controversy is not a result of a difference of opinions, but the blanket statements Gilmour has made. Other speakers at the rally were not as kind to Gilmour. Sundhya Walther, who is also a PhD student in the English department and spoke at the rally, thought that “Victoria College should seriously reconsider his employment, because Gilmour’s teaching philosophy is not something that can be solved by cosmetic gestures.” Krystyn Olmedo, a second-year classics student, compared Gilmour’s comments to something from “ancient times.” Yolen Bollo-Kamara, the UTSU’s vice-president, equity, was present at the rally and expressed concern at the limited response from the university. “Gilmour’s comments essentially exclude a large portion of the university’s community,” she said.
Since the publication of Gilmour’s comments on Wednesday, he has issued an apology.