Student unions and groups across all three campuses issued statements responding to tenured professor Jordan Peterson’s YouTube lecture series called Professor against political correctness, which included negative comments about the use of gender neutral pronouns.
These include written statements from the Scarborough Campus Students Union (SCSU), the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), as well as an open letter signed by University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), and the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) among others.
The SCSU statement contains a condemnation of what they call “the transphobic, homophobic, and anti-black comments made by Jordan Peterson” and praised the work of groups such as the BLC and trans and non-binary students who are “actively organizing against the lectures posted online.”
“Discrimination like this is hurtful, unprofessional, and needlessly provocative. Non-binary individuals shouldn’t feel devalued by the very people they rely on to provide them with education,” reads part of a statement in the SCSU letter by SC:OUT External and Health Executive Alex Legault.
Peterson has repeatedly stated in public that he does not believe the contents of any of his videos constitute hateful remarks. He maintains that the purpose of his videos is to defend free speech — a principle that he considers in danger.
ASSU’s statement refers to Peterson as an “alleged UofT professor,” despite Peterson’s status as a tenured professor, and reiterates ASSU’s support of students “in retaliation against Peterson’s blatant display of disrespect to UofT’s students and community.”
The open letter from UTMSU, APUS, BLC, and others demands a public apology from Peterson, a removal of his lectures from YouTube, “a town hall with President Meric Gertler, Provost Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President Angela Hildyard, and Professor Jordan Peterson, where community members can explain the issues he clearly does not comprehend,” mandatory anti-oppression training at all levels of U of T, and a commitment from the University that it will “take action to defend students and University community members in future instances where tenured professors have made prejudiced comments against an individual or group on the basis of race, sexual orientation, ability, sex, religion, gender expression, or gender identity.”
“Hateful comments should never be tolerated, especially not from someone who is considered to be an educator. No student should have to endure a two-hour lecture where their gender identity, existence, and realities are being debated and refused. Ultimately, Peterson’s comments erode the safe campus learning environment to which the University states a commitment,” reads part of the concluding statement of the letter.
Peterson uploaded a response to the UTMSU letter on YouTube, in which he characterizes the letter as a “[call] for my discipline and silencing.” He denies saying that he does not believe in the existence of non-binary gender identities and encourages his supporters to write emails to the student leaders involved in the letter.
“You better pay attention to that because what that essentially means is that speech is now an act of violence and more importantly, refusal to use the words that someone else demands that you use is an act of violence,” he says. “That’s what I’m being accused of.”
The UTSU statement includes similar condemnations and says that “anti-trans discrimination is responsible for the routine assault and murder of trans people — especially people of colour — in addition to poverty and homelessness. The UTSU stands with oppressed members of the U of T community, and those who are further marginalized by this Professor’s actions.”
The statement came after an executive report from Cassandra Williams, Vice-President University Affairs, was published. In her report, Williams calls out the rest of the UTSU leadership: “Since [Peterson’s] video was uploaded, almost no member of the UTSU executive or board of directors has voiced any sort of public disagreement with Peterson’s transphobia, or voiced any sentiments at all to indicate that the University of Toronto ought to be a safe environment for trans individuals,” after which she implored the UTSU to engage more actively in solidarity with the transgender community.
Williams, UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike, and Peterson did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.