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Renaming Ryerson is a starting point for reconciliation
Why students and administration should support VUSAC’s proposal
On February 4, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) to rename the Ryerson Vic One course stream and Ryerson House residence building. The VUSAC proposal echoes Ryerson University’s Indigenous Students’ Association and the Ryerson Students’ Union’s petition to rename Ryerson University in 2017.
These facilities are all named after Egerton Ryerson, who is known for being a proponent of the education system in Canada. However, he also believed in separate, religious education for Indigenous children and became a key figure in the design and implementation of residential schools.
Residential schools subjected generations of Indigenous peoples to cultural genocide, abuse, and trauma at the hands of the Canadian government and churches. Given Ryerson’s complicity, students and the Victoria University administration should therefore support the renaming proposal in the context of Canada’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.
This question of whether historical figures who have contributed to violence against Indigenous peoples should still be honoured by the streets, buildings, and institutions that bear their names is a hotly contested one. The debate has gained more traction since the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.
For instance, a motion to discuss changing the names of public schools and buildings named after John A. Macdonald passed at a meeting of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The motion cites the name as a contributing factor to an unsafe learning environment for children, as Macdonald contributed to the forced starvation and assimilation of Indigenous peoples, with the goal of “tak[ing] the Indian out of the child.”
Some argue that the push to rename buildings shows a lack of understanding for historical context, maintaining that important figures in Canadian history should not be held to today’s moral standards. But as Indigenous writer Chelsea Vowel , to view the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples through a historical lens is really to view it through “a whites-only 19th century perspective.” Indigenous peoples in both the past and the present morally opposed the actions of figures like Macdonald.
In a similar debate concerning renaming schools and parks named for Frank Oliver — a nineteenth century politician known for anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism — Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons argues that, if only perfect people are memorialized, “we soon won’t have anyone to remember at all.”
This concern is misplaced. The movement to remove Oliver, Macdonald, and Ryerson’s names isn’t related to whether they were perfect people in their lives, but rather how their words and actions continue to shape Canada today. The decision to remove a racist historical figure’s name from a building isn’t a process of completing a comprehensive evaluation of that person’s character, argues Regina Rini, an assistant professor of ethics at New York University. Rather, it is a process of asking whether the values that person represents are worth passing on to future generations.
Simons further voices the concern that renaming monuments and buildings is an attempt to erase a colonial past, rather than acknowledge it. However, while we should remember Ryerson’s part in laying the foundation for residential schools, there are still ways to acknowledge his role without having a building or course named after him. For example, organizations on campus like the U of T Indigenous Studies Students’ Union host events for Orange Shirt Day every year as a commitment to remembering the violence of residential schools.
It is paramount that we recognize that Canada was built on, and continues to perpetrate, anti-Indigenous violence. However, buildings are named for those we respect, admire, and hope to be inspired by — not simply people we wish to remember for good or for bad. Keeping Ryerson’s name on U of T buildings and courses not only ensures that he is remembered, but also that he is respected.
It is important that we stop honouring anti-Indigenous figures in this way. But it is only a first step — the easy work, as some historians have described. In response to the ETFO motion concerning schools named after Macdonald, Indigenous entrepreneur Robert Jago wrote in The Globe and Mail that “reconciliation is not about earnest and well-meaning non-natives beating the drum for the one and only Indigenous issue that’s made it through to their political consciousness.”
Students should support VUSAC’s proposal, but we should be wary of focusing solely on this issue. Reconciliation requires, and deserves, hard work as well. Non-Indigenous students, like me, should also support funding for more Indigenous spaces on campus, hiring more Indigenous professors, pushing for Indigenous teaching to be offered in more disciplines, and most importantly, listening to Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.
Renaming buildings does not absolve Canada’s collective guilt, nor should it be supported as a way to make us more comfortable with our history. Instead, we should reflect carefully on the historical figures who we choose to revere and on the impact of their legacies. We can’t erase history, and we shouldn’t attempt to, but we can hope for positive change in the present.
Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law student at Woodsworth College. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.
Jordan Peterson doxxes two student activists
Psychology prof tweets Facebook profiles of students protesting event
U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson took to Twitter on October 26 to broadcast the Facebook profiles of two students who helped organize a protest of a Ryerson free speech event where Peterson was scheduled to speak; it was cancelled in August.
The event, “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses,” would have featured prominent conservative speakers. The planned protest rally posed a potential threat if the two groups were to clash, and Ryerson University felt that it did not have proper security for the event. In one of his tweets, Peterson called the protest’s student organizers “communists (really).”
One of the students’ profiles is no longer publicly available on Facebook. The other student, Christeen Elizabeth, has chosen to keep hers available. She feels Peterson’s action should not be taken as a threat, but rather as validation. “When he doxxed me, he validated me,” she said. “He validated everything that I was saying.”
Elizabeth has received extensive hate mail and harassment via Facebook, some of which have bordered on death threats. “These are his fans,” said Elizabeth. “These are the people he’s pandering to. This is why I take issue.”
The free speech event has been rescheduled for November 11, now at Canada Christian College, which Elizabeth said her group still plans on protesting.
Peterson did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.
One of the communists (really) who celebrated the shutdown of our Ryerson talk: studying business… https://t.co/WjqzCGNEq5
— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) October 26, 2017
Agitator for Ryerson U shutdown of our Aug free speech event featured the neighborhood poster on her Facebook page: https://t.co/jtip6Rchyc
— Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) October 26, 2017
Ryerson University students left without access to International Student Identity Cards
Ryerson Students’ Union unable to provide cards due to miscommunication with the CFS
There has been an enquiry as to whether Ryerson University students have been purchasing International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The Ryerson Student Union (RSU) has allegedly been unable to supply them.
When asked about the inability to provide ISICs to their students, RSU president Andrea Bartlett explained that they have encountered problems with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
Bartlett claims that their membership services coordinator at the membership services office (MSO) has been waiting for the CFS to format and fix the system. “She was in contact with someone last semester, who eventually seemed to lose contact with… but emailed them again before the holiday break, and again in the new year. She never received a reply from any CFS representative who is responsible for maintaining the system,” Bartlett said.
Bartlet added that “shortly before reading week, someone emailed our MSO coordinator from CFS asking what was wrong, and she explained the above story. They said they would come by this past Friday at 4 to check out our laptop/system. They never came.”
UTSU president Ben Coleman said that the UTSU “does not have the ability to provide ISICs to Ryerson students.”
According to the ISIC website, members of the CFS may receive their ISIC for free at select issuing offices across the country, including through the UTSU and RSU respectively. For this reason, Bartlett says that she is “unsure why UTSU would charge Ryerson students for ISICs to begin with.”
The membership services coordinator at the RSU contacted several nearby institutions and travel agencies asking for assistance in providing Ryerson students with ISICs in urgent circumstances. The RSU had been instructing students to go to Travel Cuts, a Toronto-based travel agency, or to contact OCAD or George Brown’s student unions for assistance.
Bartlett stated that she had not heard of any Ryerson students turning to the UTSU for their ISIC. “Neither myself or our MSO Coordinator have heard of students going to U of T to get an ISIC card currently, but if that’s the case we strongly advise them to first reach out to our MSO office,” she said.
“As far as we [the RSU] are concerned, we have done everything in our power given that the CFS has sole capacity to fix this situation, with no cooperation or willingness to resolve the issue from the CFS. It is very disappointing that an organization that our members pay into, are not able to receive the services that they pay for,” Bartlett said.
Rajean Hoilett, Chairperson for CFS Ontario, said that the CFS had visited Ryerson to fix their ISIC system. According to Hoilett , the two groups were supposed to meet over the reading week but could not agree on a time. Hoilett told The Varsity in a phone interview that the CFS had been in “constant communication and very accommodating” with the RSU.
This article has been updated to include a comment from Rajean Hoilett, CFS Ontario Chairperson.
Ryerson two-ply toilet paper inquiry should be applauded
They had the perfect plan, they had the perfect system, and they had the perfect two-ply toilet paper; but Ryerson University could not have imagined that an unopened pack of plush bathroom tissue would have tipped off journalism student Laura Woodward. Woodward toiled to discover the final destination of the toilet paper — for it was certainly not being stocked in students’ washrooms.
Eventually, Woodward let the facilities department know she was ready to file an access-to-information request, and that’s when the administration cracked. A university spokesperson revealed the truth behind the two-tiered toilet paper system — some buildings on the Ryerson campus (especially those with administrative offices) are supplied with toilet paper that is both softer and more luxurious than the paper being stocked in other buildings.
Though it may seem like a trivial matter, outlets like CTV, the Toronto Star, and the National Post have picked up the story. Yet, plenty of people on Facebook and in newspaper comments sections decry that this is a ridiculous problem. Are some of us privileged to the point that we demand two-ply toilet paper as a basic human right?
However, aside from the predicament being hilarious, it is a controversy that is completely relevant to students. Namely, there is little transparency over where our tuition fees go and as a result, the average student has little input. Woodward’s efforts should be applauded, for they symbolize the somewhat arduous process students have to go through to get to the bottom of a story.
Two-ply toilet paper is more expensive — in fact, Janice Winton, vice president of administration and finance at Ryerson, looked into converting to a two-ply system, but opted against it, citing the high costs. It is therefore preposterous that they are still purchasing two-ply toilet paper for select patrons, despite it being double the cost ($3.67 per roll, compared to $1.83). Students have a right to know where their fees are going without having to threaten to file an access-to-information request, and they have a right to their tuition being used fairly and responsibly.
Whether or not you agree that this story deserves coverage, it is important that we recognize the merits of investigative journalism. Woodward saw something that appeared out of place: in this case, the catalyst was two-ply toilet paper at an institution where she had never seen such a luxury. She contacted toilet paper manufacturers to find out more information, and brought her concerns to the administration. Through inquiry, Woodward was able to engage students and spark discussion over equity, student finance, and the responsible spending of money at an educational institution.
This story brings up a minor injustice on campus, and highlights that universities should be transparent in how they spend their funds. Student should not have to jump through hoops to learn about something as mundane as toilet paper on campus.