Monday, Sept. 30, 2013
By Sherwood Hines
Why do university students happily sing along to a song that promotes non-consensual sex with underage girls?
Why do young people willingly participate in a rape chant?
How come students have been singing this song year after year at campuses across the country without anyone pointing out that something is wrong?
How is it that the song escaped the attention of university administrations or the media?
These are astounding questions.
That the song was led by members of Saint Mary’s Student Union made it all the more difficult for the public to comprehend. It revealed an uncomfortable realization that this wasn’t an isolated incident, but part of a wide-spread cultural attitude pervasive amongst student leaders in our culture.
Jared Perry, President of the Saint Mary’s Student Union, appeared confused when he reflected before the interview cameras that the song was chosen for its rhythm and beat, and that no one listened to the lyrics (see video link below). He said that no one thought anything of the chant adding it had been used by students at Saint Mary’s for the last ten years.
In the aftermath, Perry resigned as Saint Mary’s Student Union President.
Rather than looking to blame someone, Perry, the student union, university administration or even youth culture, which removes all of us from our own implication, let’s look at root causes. If we can learn anything from this, move in an ethical, socially progressive direction, we could decide to act in ways that enhance respect for young women and men rather than threaten anyone with sexual violence. So let’s look beyond blame and get down to examining cultural messages that we have normalized.
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs hosted a conversation last month on this controversy within the Centre’s Everyday Ethics series. Dr. Pat Bradshaw, Dean of the Sobey School of Business and Dr. Esther Enns, Dean of Arts at Saint Mary’s lead a sold-out discussion at CCEPA entitled “Systemic Oppression of Women, Internalized Sexism and Rape Culture: What Can We Learn from the SMU/UBC Rape Chant Controversy?”
Dr. Bradshaw highlighted that these actions – whether consciously or unconsciously acted upon – are surface manifestations of deeper cultural and personal values ever present in patriarchal society. With time, these thoughts and actions are normalized, embedded into our ways of being and organizations, and taken for granted.
Dr. Enns asked the audience to look at the students’ actions from an interpretive point of view. “What is appealing about participating in the chant? What rewards come from group participation? Were the students mindful of what they were singing, or were they singing ‘mindlessly’? Are women seen as objects of fun?”
Both speakers pointed out we always live within a cultural context. The fact that the song had been used for years illustrates how normalized these contexts are.
Dr. Enns noted that there are many cultural inquiries related to this incident: Male/female class structures
- Frosh culture
- Psychology of crowd dynamics
- Attitudes toward authority figures
- Initiation rites and ideas of obedience and acceptance
- Internalized sexism
- Media messages
- Patriarchal beliefs
- The normalization of sexual language
The media attention and subsequent university administration hand-wringing over the chant revealed the countervailing cultural ideal that behavior like this is no longer acceptable.
Dr. Enns reminded the audience there have been similar historical incidents now considered water-shed moments which have changed cultural attitudes. One needs only think of residential schools, genocide, or the sexual abuse within the Catholic Church to see attitudes do change as cultures move toward deeper manifestations of equality, fairness, and justice. The rape chant incident can be seen as an opportunity to change cultural norms and behaviors, not to be dismissed as the actions of a few misguided youth.
In final reflection, Dr. Enns asked the audience to consider this: as education systems increasingly move away from providing an education in the humanities, where values, ethics, and civic engagement are taught and as education shifts emphasis to the hard sciences of math, science, and commerce, do we further lose opportunity to teach important social values? Do we lose the opportunity to teach self-reflection and the ability to critique the actions of society?
Round Table Conclusions:
The audience broke into groups to reflect on the presentations and brought back suggestions to the larger audience which included:
- There should be a Frosh Week discussion about what ‘consent’ means.
- The Saint Mary’s Women’s Centre needs to be given a bigger role in planning frosh week activities.
- Frosh Week Peer Leaders need to be better trained.
- Students need opportunities to learn how to deal with “bystander” syndrome.
- There should be a sexual code of conduct taught during Frosh Week.
- This kind of education should be part of public education from P-12.
- Saint Mary’s should develop policy pertaining to campus activities.
- Students need to be aware of “rape-related” slang in popular culture.
- Alcohol should be removed from Frosh Week activities.
- Saint Mary’s Student Union needs to look at its relationship with “jock” culture.
- Need a gender-based examination of university structure and student government.
- Re-think Frosh week activities and ideas of “rites of passage” to move from disempowering to empowering activities.
Relevant Statistics (Statistics Canada):
- 59% of all Canadian university undergrads are female.
- Social Sciences undergraduates: 70% female.
- English Department undergraduates: 80% female
- Engineering Program undergraduates: 18% female
- Percentage of women who say they have been sexually assaulted while attending university: 75% – Federation of Students
- Percentage of women who do not report sexual assault: 90%
Global Television’s news coverage of Saint Mary’s Rape Chant incident. Please note: Contains footage of Rape Chant.
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
This article originally appeared in a shortened version in the Ottawa Citizen, Thursday 17 October 2013
“Freedom of expression is all well and good. Yet surely people should have legal protection against defamation.”
I’m not sure I agree. We should enjoy legal protection against something only when no other sort of protection will do the job, and perhaps the social protections against defamation we currently enjoy are good enough.
But let’s leave the matter of the ultimate adequacy of non-legal protections aside. I want rather to urge two things: first, that laws against defamation should apply only when nothing other than law will do; and, second, that there’s a lot in place in our society besides laws that can either keep us safe from defamation in the first place or right our ships should we ever be defamed.
The question what laws should we have against defamation is always worth asking, but it’s especially pertinent now, given two cases presently before the courts. I’m referring to the suits against Ezra Levant, the writer and television show host, and Denis Rancourt, the activist and researcher who used to teach physics at the University of Ottawa.
The suit against Mr Levant was brought by Khurrum Awan, who participated in unsuccessful human rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine, in 2008. Mr Awan claims that Mr Levant defamed him in blog posts by, for instance, repeatedly calling him a liar and a member of an anti-Semitic organization. Mr Awan also claims that because of Mr Levant’s actions he has lost friends and reputation.
The suit against Dr Rancourt was brought by Joanne St. Lewis, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. Ms St. Lewis claims that in 2011, Dr Rancourt defamed her in a blog post by calling her a house negro for advising U of O president Alan Rock that a report alleging systemic racial discrimination at the university was faulty.
If defamation is any business of the law, the bar for a successful suit should be very high. Otherwise, public discussion will suffer, as people will hide their thoughts or express them only privately or anonymously. When people become afraid to remark openly on the bad behaviour of the powerful for fear of being sued, bad behaviour will flourish.
Of course, even if the bar is high, people might still file suits just to vex or weary those who have criticised them. It’s not enough to protect public discussion, then, that the bar for defamation be high. There need to be safeguards in place to prevent people from using the legal process itself as punishment.
But false accusation is also harmful. It’s harmful to the person who loses wages or reputation because of it. And it is harmful to all of us generally, as qualified people will shun public roles should they think others can get away with vilifying them.
So we need mechanisms by which to keep comment and criticism honest and civil, mechanisms that don’t at the same time inhibit them, as threats of a lawsuit do.
I think that the mechanism by which to keep comment and criticism honest and civil is comment and criticism itself. When someone speaks a falsehood about one, speak the truth back. Expose the other’s shoddy evidence or reasoning. When insulted, note that an insult isn’t evidence or argument against one, or even a criticism.
If it is false that you acted as a house negro, explain to the world that you didn’t. If you are upset by a phrase or a tone, criticise publicly the use of that phrase or tone. If you didn’t lie, expose the lie that you did. This all can be done easily and effectively without employing a single lawyer.
There are at least two worries about the strength of this mechanism. One is that people are credulous and won’t respond to the truth, especially if they like the falsehood or it gets repeated. The other is that not many people have access to a medium through which to tell their side of the story.
Sadly, people are indeed credulous and biased. But let’s not exaggerate the extent to which they are. Given a well-publicised discussion, most people will conform their opinions to their evidence. (Is this true? That many people trust horoscopes or buy naturopathic remedies suggests it isn’t.)
Moreover, let’s not rest content in the thought that we cannot make our situation less hospitable to credulity and bias. One element in our culture that tends to increase our credulity and bias is the willingness of authorities to settle matters for us. We’re not going to think for ourselves, or even bother to discover how, if we don’t need to. If this is right, the institution of defamation law is itself part of the problem.
That people lack fora in which to respond to falsehoods and insults is also a problem we should neither exaggerate nor rest content with. We can call on governments to make public spaces available to people, in parks, community centres, or the streets. We can demand public billboards, or just take to posting on telephone poles. The internet, certainly, is a great resource to those who lack access to newspapers and television. We accept that it’s good at transmitting calumny; we should be aware of its potential to set things straight.
A final thought: If we, as the ordinary people we are, are inevitably credulous and biased, and given to believe what we want to believe or what is most effectively purveyed to us despite the evidence, then the courts themselves are not going to be much use against actual defamation, either. We might, that is, accept their decisions (or we might not), but we could have no reason to insist that the inevitably biased or impressionable judges we’ve charged to do our work for us will reliably render correct decisions. After all, they’re just people, too.
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
Christ detaches easily from Christmas and leaves lots of good things behind—generosity, good will, and children foremost among them. Does Thanksgiving also have detachable parts, so that atheists might celebrate it, just as they can Christmas?
It would seem so: Thanksgiving is a harvest festival as well as a giving of thanks, and the two can be separated as wheat from chaff.
For religious people, to celebrate Thanksgiving is to give thanks to God. It’s to give thanks to God for all the good things one has, as they have all come from Him as gifts. Among the good things He has given to you are His love, His guidance, and the simple fact of your existence in the world. Each of these is precious to you and yet none of them have you earned, and so your benefactor is due your thanks.
The religious meaning of Thanksgiving is not exclusive to just a few religions. All sorts of religious people can feel the attraction of Thanksgiving and appreciate its significance. All that’s necessary for a person to participate is the belief that a deity is responsible for his or her existence and is looking out for her—and not out of duty but gratuitously.
Not only can Christians, Muslims, and Jews give thanks; so, too, can Stoics and other pantheists, as well as animists, spiritualists, and new-agers of all kinds. I can think of no wider basis for interfaith communion than the giving of thanks, despite the endless variety of ways in which the recipient of that thanks is conceived.
Atheists cannot, though, join in the giving of thanks. Atheists don’t think God exists, not in any conception, and so don’t think there is anyone around to whom to give thanks.
Can’t atheists just be thankful for all the people in their lives who matter to them, or for their wellbeing and happiness, or just for being alive? They can, if “thankful for” simply refers to an emotion of contentment or happiness or appreciation. Best, though, just to say they can be happy for being alive and an appreciative of their friends and those who love them. They do not also feel grateful for life and friends and love, for the emotion of gratitude requires believing that someone exists to be thanked.
Well, that God doesn’t exist doesn’t imply that atheists can’t be grateful to the people who matter to them or to the people whose labour and concern contributes to their security and prosperity, does it? Gratitude to all these people can certainly be part of the happiness they feel, and they can express that gratitude.
The above argument fails, though, for gratitude is appropriate only when what you receive has been given freely, as a gift. For the most part, whatever security or prosperity we enjoy, we enjoy as a result of either compensated exchange or happenstance. We are not to thank people for doing their jobs, no matter how well they do them, and no one can be thanked for what comes by accident or luck.
Of course, each of us now and then benefits from a good bestowed gratuitously by a friend or a stranger. For these gifts, though, we show our gratitude immediately and directly, by saying or nodding “thank you” to our benefactor. We don’t need to set aside a time for a ritualized general thank-you. One personal thank-you at the time of each favour is enough.
If these reflections are correct, atheists cannot participate in the giving-thanks part of Thanksgiving. Not in any way at all. What remains, then, is simply the harvest-festival part.
For religious people, the standard setting for the giving of thanks is entirely incidental to the meaning of the occasion. The family around the table, the turkey or ham, the football game, the Peanuts TV special—all of these are just props and ritual, more or less useful in putting people at their ease and in mind of their purpose. None is essential to thanking God.
What for a religious person, though, is just the setting of Thanksgiving is for the atheist the entire celebration itself. Family and fun, and marking the change of the seasons, is its only meaning and significance.
I suppose that to a religious person atheist Thanksgiving must appear a thin thing, lacking reverence and grandeur. It does lack them, but then, again, a person who reveres God must feel diminished in her own eyes. Giving thanks to God must engender in the religious the sense that they are powerless supplicants to a higher reality. Another thing we atheists are happy about, then, is that nothing at all depends on the will of a spirit in the sky.
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
Should we in the Halifax Regional Municipality abandon our custom of thanking the driver as we exit the bus?
I know of three arguments that we should.
The first is that pausing to thank the driver eats up time and, thereby, slows down service. The second is that it compromises safety. The third is that we shouldn’t thank people for simply doing their job.
Now it’s true that when just about everyone in a crunch of people trying to get off the bus turns to thank the driver, time gets wasted and service slows down. The solution to the problem, though, isn’t to abandon our custom, but rather to modify it slightly. We just have to delegate the saying of thank-you to the last person leaving.
Here’s the new rule: Thank the driver, if you care to, if you are the only person getting off. But don’t pause to say “thank you” if someone is getting off behind you. If you are the last person getting off at the stop, though, thank the driver on behalf of the entire group of people exiting.
Of course, one problem with this solution is that those who don’t mean to thank the driver will be wrongly counted among the thankers. Another problem is that if the final person exiting the bus doesn’t thank the driver, either because she doesn’t think the driver deserves thanks or because it’s not her habit, the people who exited earlier won’t have thanked the driver, despite their wish.
The second argument, that thanking the driver puts safety at risk, has two parts. First, acknowledging thank-yous all day long wearies a driver. Second, in order to acknowledge the thank-you, a driver has to turn his or her attention away from the front of the bus. A weary or distracted driver is an accident waiting to happen.
Does receiving thank-yous weary or distract drivers? We would need to hear from the drivers themselves before crediting the second argument. In any case, the solution to the first problem would work here just as well. If safety is indeed compromised when a driver acknowledges a large number of thank-yous, then, since following the new rule stated above will reduce that number, following it will improve safety.
The third argument begins with the observation that in driving the bus, or in serving customers or clients, bus drivers, clerks, tellers, and the rest are simply doing their job. They get paid for what they do. Serving us well, then, is not a favour bus drivers do us. Drivers bring us benefits, absolutely; but they do so in exchange for money, and not as gifts they freely give.
We are not indebted to someone whose service comes with a price, no matter how much benefit we derive from their service.
Yet only when a person does one a favour does he or she deserve one’s thanks. By thanking drivers when they do not, in fact, deserve thanks, we reduce the value of gratitude. “Thank you” loses its significance.
We can make a related point from the driver’s side. To thank a bus driver is implicitly to deny to him or her that what he or she is doing is honest work within an impersonal economy. Thus, thanking the driver devalues not only our gratitude, but his or her labour, as well.
These points apply even when the driver performs exceptionally well. He or she is still simply doing his or her job. That a person is good at his or her job might call forth our admiration, but it cannot properly call forth gratitude.
I think this argument is unassailable. Thanking people for doing their jobs spreads gratitude too thin and expresses disdain for the meaning and value of work. Since we want to appreciate both favours and labour for what they in fact are, we ought to abandon the practice of thanking people for simply doing their jobs.
And, yet, we like to end our transactions with a “thank you.” Not leaving off with this pleasantry would feel harsh and impolite.
It seems to me that the only sound response to the argument that we should not thank drivers is to deny that in saying “thank you,” we are actually thanking them. Paradoxical as it might sound, we aren’t in fact expressing gratitude when to the driver we say or nod “thanks.”
What we are doing, rather, is acknowledging the personhood of the person with whom we are transacting business. We are letting it register with the driver that we see him or her as a creature of intelligence and emotion who is engaged in his or her present task for his or her own good reasons. Not to say “thank you”—which would be to ignore the clerk—is to treat him or her as merely a machine, without consciousness or will.
It is unfortunate that we have no resources to use to acknowledge the personhood of the driver other than the language and manners of gratitude. We would be clearer in our intentions and less often confused if we had an acknowledgement ritual that didn’t involve saying “thank you.”
But we don’t, and so the language and manners of gratitude will have to do.
Now, acknowledging the personhood of drivers by speaking the words of gratitude is not a unique phenomenon. There are all sorts of occasions on which we use language that is at home in one domain to perform a task in a different domain.
Sometimes, though, we get confused as to what domain our task is in, and our confusion can have unfortunate repercussions.
Take “I’m sorry,” for instance. “I’m sorry” is most at home in the domain of apologies, when a bad outcome is our moral fault. But we also use the phrase to express regret that an event for which we are not morally culpable occurred. We even sometimes use it to express our sadness at something that lies entirely beyond both our causal and moral responsibility.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” said when you hadn’t promised to call, or couldn’t call because you had to deal with an emergency, doesn’t express an apology, for you weren’t at fault in not calling. “I regret I didn’t call” would express your intention more clearly.
Oftentimes, “I’m sorry you feel that way” is a way of saying simply that you’re sad he or she feels that way.
“I’m sorry you failed,” the teacher says. The student might think the teacher is apologizing and, thereby, admitting she wronged him by neglecting to teach him adequately. But the teacher, having done her best, is instead expressing only regret or sadness.
I think we should cherish our practice of saying “thank you” to bus drivers, store clerks, bank tellers, and so on. It’s civil and pleasant to acknowledge others as people, and pleasant and heartening to be so acknowledged. But let us be clear that our practice is one of civility and fellow feeling, and not one of expressing gratitude. Though we pause to say “thank you” to the bus driver, we do well to understand that we aren’t actually thanking her.
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is reported to have said that “We [Canadians] don’t imprison people for their expressing political positions.” He was speaking in Miramichi, New Brunswick, early in August this year.
Mr Harper was answering a question about the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and what Canada might do regarding the Russian law banning advocacy of non-traditional sexual relations.
Mr Harper is wrong, of course. John Ross Taylor was twice imprisoned for expressing his political views. James Keegstra, Ernst Zundel, and Terry Tremaine has each been sentenced to jail for what he said (none has gone to jail for that reason, though; in Keestra’s case, for instance, his one-year sentence was suspended).
Had Mr Harper said we don’t often imprison people for expressing political positions, he might have been closer to the truth. Our Canadian way is, rather, to fine them and to issue cease and desist orders. Since 1970, when our current regime of anti-expression laws began, dozens of Canadians have been ordered to shut up, apologize, or pay money—or be jailed for contempt.
Certainly we’re happy that the climate for free expression is less chilly now than it recently was, as these days the Canadian Human Rights Commission lacks statutory power to interfere with the expression of opinion or emotion. The bill repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act passed the Senate this summer. That section had prohibited exposing members of certain groups of people to hatred or contempt.
Nonetheless, several provincial and territorial human rights commissions continue to claim such powers, whether clearly given them by statute or not. And, of course, our criminal code makes what it calls “Hate Propaganda” illegal. Because of Sections 318 and 319, Canadians can go to jail (up to five years) for expressing their views, even should they do so peacefully and without harassing anyone.
These remaining barriers to free expression rest on no good justification and should be removed.
Let us recall the reasons we have for wanting wide freedom of expression, both for ourselves and others. Some of these reasons are about expression itself and its place in our lives, some are about its social and political utility.
Not worrying about fines or jail enables people to be candid with each other. It enables research and the search for truth to proceed. It lets people get things off their chests. Without it, entertainment is less entertaining.
For open and creative people (a group to which most Canadians belong), life isn’t worth much if we are not making our opinions and emotions known to others. And it’s not much if others are not making theirs know to us. Having views and feelings, and appreciating the views and feelings of others, is part of what living well is all about. This applies just as much to those whose views are abhorrent.
Wide freedom of expression provides us with a fair chance to influence law and government policy. We lack a fair chance when we cannot speak our mind or feelings except under threat of punishment. It also helps us to know the mind and feelings of those who run for office.
Finally, we care to treat people with respect, and respect requires applying no pressure to them save the pressures of evidence, argument, and example. To require that a person adopt a point of view or remain silent when the rest of us may speak is to treat that person with contempt.
There are two arguments for restricting speech that deserve attention. One is that abhorrent expression can spread evil attitudes, and evil attitudes can lead to evil actions. We are right to require, using laws and punishments, that people do not harm us, and so we are right to require them not to promote our harm.
The other is that abhorrent expression is itself harmful, as it directly harms the sense of dignity or self-worth of those toward whom it is directed.
These arguments can be answered. First, when ideas are critically discussed, the abhorrent ones have to compete against the good ones. Second, we don’t have to let our sense of dignity or self-worth be held hostage to the unfounded attitudes of others. (We can neutralize them by recognizing them as unfounded.)
Indeed, by regulating expression, we force abhorrent expression underground, where it might well spread evil attitudes because it’s goes uncontested. As well, by regulating expression, we coddle people and, thereby, prevent them from acquiring a sense of dignity based firmly on their appreciation of their worth.
If these replies to those who would restrict expression are sound, we would expect that laws against expression and their applications will play no role at all in the fight against bigotry and the struggle to bring people from marginalized groups into the mainstream.
And so it has been in Canada. Is anyone better off because John Ross Taylor went to jail or James Keegstra was successfully prosecuted? Would anyone’s sense of self-worth been increased had the Maclean’s article on Muslim demography been officially ruled hateful? Was the plight of gays and lesbians made worse when a court overturned the Alberta panel’s decision against Stephen Boissoin? Will any of this merit more than a footnote in the history of the widening of equality and opportunity in Canada?
The arguments I’ve rehearsed went a long way toward getting Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act repealed. They work just as well against provincial and territorial restrictions on expression, and just as well again against criminal code restrictions.
Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen, 16 September 2013, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/Repeal+laws+against+expression/8914931/story.html
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
Saint Mary’s University President Colin Dodds says that he and the Saint Mary’s administration “have a role to oversee and guide student leaders.” The quotation is from Dr Dodds’s response to the child-rape chant heard during SMU orientation last week.
Dr Dodds also intends to convene a President’s Council “mandated to provide recommendations to foster a cultural change that prevents sexual violence, inspires respectful behaviour and a safe learning environment within the Saint Mary’s community.” That quotation is from the press release announcing that Wayne MacKay, a former Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, will lead the council.
As a result of the President’s Council, we at Saint Mary’s can expect to see more restrictions on the peaceful expression of opinion or emotion on campus, as well as restrictions on association and on whom we might bring to campus for lectures and discussions. We might also find ourselves waving goodbye to at least a little of our privacy.
The restrictions to come will certainly apply to students and to casual professors, those who teach outside the protection of the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Association. They might end up applying even to tenured professors; it depends on the strength of the union’s commitment to academic freedom.
Well, is that such a bad thing? If restrictions have the effect of preventing sexual violence, then why not welcome them? Indeed, if they have the effect simply of preventing members of the campus community from fouling the air with child-rape chants, shouldn’t we be willing to accept them?
The restrictions I’m anticipating will indeed be a bad thing, but only for those of us who cherish universities as places of liberal education.
Liberal education, when it succeeds, creates a person willing and able to turn her beliefs into objects, objects of examination and evaluation. Not just her beliefs, but also her desires and even her emotions.
To render the subjective objective, and to look at it dispassionately, is not something easy for people to do. Our human tendency is toward belief as comfort and justification. We take our subjective states as central to our identity, and the protection of our identity as central to our well being and dignity. (I take the image of making the subjective objective from the philosopher William Bartley III.)
An educated person is keen to put at risk even central parts of her identity. That’s what it is to want to think for oneself.
An institution in which people are encouraged and helped to detach themselves from their beliefs and commitments would have to be place of open discussion and criticism. It would have to be a place where people are subject to no pressures except those of evidence and argument, but to those pressures they would have to be subjected intensely and regularly. For that reason, a place of liberal education would have to honour freedom of expression and the other civil liberties.
People at an institution of liberal education would still have beliefs, emotions, and commitments, of course, though among them would be commitments to dispassionate analysis and to trying to see things as they are. Members of the community would be committed not only to each member’s believing truly, but to each member’s believing for his or her own reasons.
Restrictions and the intimidations of punishment undercut the ability of an institution to be a place of education, for restrictions and intimidation sever our beliefs from whatever good reasons we might have for holding them.
If Saint Mary’s is to be an institution of education, it must remain a place where we are free to chant celebrations of child rape (and to criticise those who would). Only that way can the absence of our chanting such celebrations be the result of our free choice not to. (On the other hand, it’s anyone’s guess why students returning from re-education camps won’t be chanting them.)
But does Saint Mary’s aspire to be a place of education? There is plenty of evidence that it doesn’t, including President Dodds’s mandating sensitivity training and convening a council to foster a safe learning environment at Saint Mary’s.
What, then, is the mission of Saint Mary’s, if it isn’t liberal education?
Its mission would seem to be to help prepare an élite to take its place in the worlds of business, industry, and law. That requires helping students to acquire knowledge and skills, of course, but it doesn’t require helping them to become independent thinkers. Indeed, it can’t, for properly prepared graduates must have a sense of their identity as members of an élite, and a commitment to that identity.
They need, that is, as well as knowledge and skills, socialization or enculturation, if not indoctrination, into the right attitudes. They need to acquire the habits of feeling that will both help them in their careers and (this is the noble side) help them to promote social justice.
Now, if that élite is to include people from groups that have been historically oppressed or marginalized in Canada, the thinking here runs, these people need to be safe from what they might perceive as attacks on their identity or dignity, or they will leave the institution.
The impulse behind the idea of a safe university, then, is to bring students into attitudes both useful in their careers and approved socially.
Educating individuals or training an élite? With Dr Dodds’s announcement, Saint Mary’s has stated its choice.