Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

A few years ago I was approached by a lovely, incredibly talented graduate student through my role on the Native Students Association (NSA) here at the University of Toronto. We were walking through Queen’s Park on a brisk fall afternoon after a class we shared that combined undergrads and grads. I was the infectiously optimistic undergrad who had big dreams and a million projects on the go to work towards positive changes for First Nations in Canada — notably, our youth. As a mature student, I was elated at the countless possibilities for collaborations, projects, student groups, and jobs available within the university community. My plan was to try to advocate my cause in as many forums as possible.

As we swayed through the park with no urgency or regard for time, the student told me about the Walter Gordon Symposium being organized at Massey College. The theme was reconciliation through policy with respect to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action. The committee wanted to consult with Indigenous student groups on campus and have members join them in their work. Though I had never been to Massey College, I agreed to go meet the committee and hear more about the project.

Once I got past the gatekeeper, I was mesmerized by the land and space hidden behind the outer walls. A quaint water bed lay still collecting Mother Nature’s brightly hued leaves, benches lined the courtyard yearning for company, and best of all, I was warmly greeted by the few faces I saw. ‘Not bad at all,’ I thought to myself when I approached this tiny doorway in the left corner that led me into what they called the round room. The room was impressive. The walls echoed with secrets that whispered softly. I could feel the presence of some very interesting stories being told here. I looked around and found the smiling face of my friend, who eagerly invited me to sit next to her.

It was here in this fateful moment that I was introduced to Massey College. From that day, I have built meaningful relationships with some of the kindest, smartest, and warmest group of students — Junior Fellows — I have met so far. Through my collaboration on the symposium, I learned more about this community.

The committee, and notably, their fiercely organized and extremely dedicated Chair, delivered a great symposium filled with meaningful and engaging topics, which gave birth to new ideas and the urgency for change and action on this idea of reconciliation. This word has been used loosely since the TRC, but here, I felt it was dissected and given context; more importantly, feasible steps and actions were discussed in order to begin the process.

The best part of this process was the ability to work with a man that I highly respect due to the outstanding changes he is a part of within our First Nations in Ontario: the Regional Chief Isadore Day. The symposium began with an address from Day that took place in the upper library at Massey College, and was loaded with facts about the Treaties with First Nations and its very complex history, along with some contemporary examples of where we are today. The room was filled to the brim, every chair was occupied, and the walls were lined with an attentive audience. At the end of the symposium, I left feeling very hopeful that the audience was inspired to take action and gained a greater understanding of the complex issues facing First Nations in Canada.

After some time had passed, my new friends had approached me to apply to become a Junior Fellow. I was invited to meet the Dean and Head of Massey Hugh Segal for lunch. During lunch, they warmly welcomed me to join the community, approaching me with humility and honesty. These attributes deeply affect me as an Indigenous woman because they are embodied in the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and a foundation for the governance of the NSA. That lunch was key to my engagement in the college’s community.

I have witnessed and participated in the diversity of Massey College through orientation events, high tables, low tables, lunches, and of course meaningful conversations. I am now a second-year Junior Fellow, and though my experience at Massey has been very pleasant, this is only one story — a story from a student who has faced tremendous adversity at an institution that has caused my family great pain.

My mother is a residential school survivor. When we speak of her experience, she always tells that the Creator has a plan for us all: through the dark times there is always light and a purpose. I am still avidly working on my purpose, and I face challenges and barriers daily. When I feel lost, my mother tells me a story and my Elders tell me stories; through that gift, I wanted to share mine with you.

What happened to the Junior Fellow who experienced racism at the College recently is terribly sad and incredibly painful. I still bear the scars of inappropriate remarks and outright hateful speech. I know how damaging it can be. We are a community, and that community has the responsibility to create safe and inviting spaces for all. Moving forward, I hope that my story is mirrored by new faces and of course encouraged by the Senior Fellows. Miigwech — until next time.

 

Audrey Rochette is a second-year Junior Fellow at Massey College. She is the Crane and Governance Leader of the Native Students Association.

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

A former Don of Hall reflects on moving forward from conflict at Massey College

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These days, Charles Dickens’ words might apply to Toronto’s Massey College. While its alumna Julie Payette was installed as Canada’s Governor General, distinguished senior member Professor Emeritus Michael Marrus was being pushed out the college door.

As a graduate student in computer engineering, Payette entered Massey College in 1988 with sparkling eyes, remarkable energy, and delightful eagerness to serve on the social committee and to converse with everyone around the dining room table. She lent her clear soprano voice to college events and quietly advanced academically in ways that would prepare her to later soar into space in 1999.  

Before Payette arrived at Massey, Marrus was already a Senior Fellow and had recently published a book with Oxford University Press titled The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century.

Now this distinguished historian is a refugee himself. His community of Massey scholars is driving him out after he made a single tactless and remarkably insensitive reference to slavery to a Black graduate student.

The irony is great. On October 2, Payette spoke to the packed audience in Parliament’s Senate Chamber about how Canada is “rich in values, openness, tolerance, mutual cooperation, and compassion.” But there is little tolerance or compassion for Marrus, who has unreservedly accepted responsibility for his remark, denounced it as wrong, and attempted to apologize. The victim of the offensive remark is apparently unwilling to meet with Marrus to receive his apology.

By what code of conduct is this banishment appropriate? The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of Jacob, who wronged his brother, Esau. Esau’s willingness to receive Jacob restored life to his penitent brother. The encounter prompted Jacob to declare, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably.”

What code of conduct permits a person to refuse to receive favourably a community member who wishes to apologize? The New Testament speaks of the duty to offer forgiveness to the repentant — Matthew 18:21–22 reads, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”  

The young scholars who reside at Massey College represent some of the best of their generation. Smart, industrious, knowledgeable, and diverse, they will change the academic enterprise to benefit us all. But they must be fair, and they should develop wisdom.  

If these students are fortunate, then they, too, will grow old. If they are lucky, then they will live in a community where the young protect the elderly against the merciless advance of age that can cause disinhibition. If they are blessed, then they will spend their last years among people who are kind.

In her years at Massey College, Payette lived the adage she recited in Parliament: “We can always do better together than on our own. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The obvious task of Massey College members is to put the parts back together. The very inscription on the college wall challenges the students to “make of worth the fellowship to which they belong,” inviting them to be the change they wish to see.

The road back to collegiality will not be easy; it might best be guided by a university chaplain. But all who value the collegiate enterprise must embark on that journey. Who among us is so unworthy as not to be forgiven?

Perhaps one day, great Canadians will gather again in the Senate Chamber to welcome another Massey College alumna — a new Black female Governor General. She might speak of her difficult challenge in moving from hurt to forgiveness. She might say that the day Payette became Governor General was a great day, but the day Massey College chose compassion and generosity was its finest hour.

 

Juliet Guichon is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. She served as Massey College’s Don of Hall from 1989–1990 while Julie Payette served as a college Fellow.

Incident of anti-Black racism wracks elite Massey College

Faculty, students pen open letter condemning incident, “Master” title replaced with “Head of College”

Incident of anti-Black racism wracks elite Massey College

An anti-Black racial slur made by a Senior Fellow at Massey College has prompted widespread criticism from students and faculty.

The incident happened on September 26 when Head of Massey College Hugh Segal approached a table at a lunch attended by Michael Marrus and three Junior Fellows. Marrus, a Holocaust Historian and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, allegedly turned to a Black Junior Fellow, and in reference to Segal’s arrival, said: “You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?”

Until the name change that occurred in the wake of the incident, the Head of Massey College’s title was “Master.”

“I condemn the hurtful and completely inappropriate remarks made by Senior Fellow Michael Marrus to one of our Junior Fellows,” wrote Segal in a statement released on September 29. “There is no place for overt, jocular or subtle racism here at Massey College.”

Segal has “set aside” the title of Master, “which has been associated with violence and the ‘lash’ in this week’s incident.” Formal change of Segal’s title will require a task force of Massey’s Governing Board to undergo a legal process in the Ontario legislature.

The incident prompted a group of Junior Fellows to make five demands of Segal, which were supported by close to 200 students and faculty at U of T in an open letter sent to Segal.

The demands are as follows:

1. The termination of Michael Marrus’ association with Massey College as a Senior Fellow.

2. A formal public apology issued from Massey College.

3. The immediate title replacement of Master with a suitable alternative title to describe the Head of Massey College.

4. Mandatory anti-racist training organized by Massey for all Junior and Senior members of the Fellowship — specifically for members of the House Committee.

5. A formal meeting with Hugh Segal and the administration of Massey College to present their plan of action in response to this and other ongoing issues affecting racialized members of the college.

Michael Marrus, as of this time, has not resigned his Fellowship, nor has it been terminated.

In the September 29 statement, Segal noted that Massey administration will work with the Equity Secretariat, made up of Junior Fellows, to organize a town hall on racism. Dovetailing this is Segal’s promise to involve U of T’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office to lead anti-racist education for all members of the college.

The Head of Massey College will also meet with the Junior Fellows who issued the calls to action to discuss next steps.

Michael Marrus did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Op-ed: A tale of no masters

Reflections on recent events at Massey College

Op-ed: A tale of no masters

I write this only with love. Specifically, love for a community that I devoted my early graduate career to, and a community that has helped me through the toughest times I could imagine.

But it’s also a community of deep hurt and insidious, percolating hatred. It is a community that, from the moment you walk its ivy-lined walls, nudges you aside in favour of its red-carpeted guests in sleek SUVs. It heralds Canadian multiculturalism by foregrounding esteemed portraits of white folk on the walls. It celebrates the ‘progressivism’ of Canadian literature by hosting book clubs catered to the rich and elite, whose idea of literary diversity is Albert Camus writing through Algeria. And it celebrates history by denigrating those who suffered from the past and present of anti-Black racism in Canada.

This community is Massey College.

I had the privilege to serve as its Don of Hall, a fancy word for the college’s mix of student president and residence don. My election into the college leadership was a culmination of a year during which I swiftly fell in love with its people and its traditions.

Reciting the Latin prayers at the podium, perfecting each word at the advice of a Classicist and dear friend, I took pride in the ability to step away from the entangled mess of graduate student life and steep my colleagues in the meditative space of a shared meal.

I also took pride in being a Don of Hall blessed with deep pigments of melanin in his skin, whose consciousness was crafted by the revolutionary histories of the Philippines, and whose ancestors eked out a living on tobacco and sugar plantations while fighting for their futures in the face of military occupation.

History matters for an institution like Massey. When — if — a Masseyite welcomes someone in, they take the visitor on a tour of the college. A stop in front of the spoon that went up into space with the alumnus who is now our Governor-General. Flights through the snuff box in the corner, or the pictures of the royals of Sweden at a pumpkin-carving contest, or the Nobel Prize in the dining room. At Massey, we chart our welcomes with the histories that our forebears laid out for our pleasure.

But history, and history-making, require forgetting as much as they require remembering. We remember with fondness the continuity of pleasures that Massey fosters, while we gloss over the racist conversations that take place over the dining table. I am guilty of this, too.

And we honor, with reverence, the various quirks of college tradition, such as gowns, Latin prayers, and High Tables, leaving unacknowledged how these quirks can act to replicate an insider Canadian elite. Or, for that matter, how access to these ‘quirks’ of tradition, and the cultural capital that comes with it, require actual capital that most racialized and precarious graduate students do not have.

History can be weaponized. If histories are built — contrived, even — at Massey College, then histories have been armed to defend turf as the community sees fit. When an esteemed historian approaches Black junior colleagues, mocking them for their leadership in revising the “Master” title at the college — “Do you feel the lash?” — history becomes as sharp as a machete, as heavy as bullet. This historian, who has stockpiled the arsenal of scholarly merit and endowed research funding, can deploy his authority to bomb Black graduate students without so much as a slap on the wrist.

I write this with the tender love that only a historian, who has pored through thousands of pages in search of precious few moments to exhume the marginalized voice, can express. And I write this against the weaponized hatred that only the historian, whose pen bleeds with the lives that their narrative can gloss over, can express, too.

As a former Don of Hall, I call on the college to make good with the demands of its community, not least being the immediate change of the “Master” title for the Head of College. Not stopping there, I further call on the college to address racism, especially anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, through a comprehensive program of anti-oppression training and a systematic review of offending Fellows.

For Massey, and for the University of Toronto in general, diversity and equity do not end at admitting a ‘diverse’ Fellowship. Like a garden, whose rapid-growing weeds are violence and white supremacy, it must constantly be cared for at its soils, roots, and stems.

Adrian De Leon is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto and a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He was Don of Hall at Massey College in the 2016–2017 academic year.

Medicine tailored just for you

The annual Massey Grand Rounds symposium addressed the possibility of utilizing big data for individual symptoms

Medicine tailored just for you

What do bits and bytes have to do with our body? Believe it or not, utilizing health data can be the key to finding innovative solutions for age-old health problems. With a wealth of data now at the fingertips of doctors, researchers, and computer scientists, the next best medical discovery may come from moving numbers around, rather than organs.

Last Wednesday, the Massey Grand Rounds symposium was held at Massey College. The yearly event is run by graduate fellows of Massey College, and this year’s conference featured a number of impressive names in the field of data-based medicine, such as Dr. Stephen Scherer and Dr. Arvind Gupta — both of whom were presenting as keynote speakers.

The two speakers are leaders in their respective fields. Scherer was designated a Nobel-class “Citation Laureate” for his “Nobel-class” research on autism in 2014. Gupta was recently appointed president of the University of British Columbia, before joining U of T’s computer science department as a distinguished visiting professor.

Speaking first, Gupta discussed how computer science is transforming medicine. He made special note of how wearables -— devices that track your body’s day-to-day activities — can collect data to make individualized medicine a reality. An example of wearable technology is the FitBit line of activity trackers.

“We have devices that can measure your pulse, your blood pressure, your glucose level… Now imagine going to your doctor. Instead of just taking a snapshot of your health from the few minutes that you’re in their office, they can see how these indicators have been changing with time.  So they’re getting a longitudinal health profile,” Gupta explained in his talk. “We expect in the next ten years, wearables that will predict a potential heart attack, hours to days before it happens,” he added.

Scherer spoke about his use of genomic data in making genetic links to autism, a disorder caused by a number of different types of genetic aberrations. When discussing his research and the recent breakthroughs made in understanding autism, Scherer notes that “our major advances have come through big data analyses.”

Beyond trying to understanding autism, Scherer extends the study of autism into the field of philosophy. He astutely notes that “because the features affected by autism are the features that make us most uniquely human… understanding these concepts will help us understand how the brain works and what makes us uniquely human.”

Other guests at the event included Dr. Nancy Reid, who was also featured as a keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Brudno, Dr. Joseph Geraci, Dr. Michael Schill, Dr. Khai N. Truong, and Dr. Trevor Young.

The event was a great experience for the U of T community to hear from world leaders about making big data accessible for individualized solutions.

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