The Medium has learned more information on incidents of sexism within UTM’s English and drama department.

As previously reported by The Medium, a presentation made to the Academic Affairs Committee earlier this month revealed sexism issues amongst students in the classroom in the English and drama department following an external review of various departments on campus.

According to Holger Syme, chair of the English and drama department, the two incidents in question occurred during the 2014/15 academic year and both involved inappropriate language in the classroom.

The first incident involved a male student making inappropriate comments during lectures and the second involved a temporary instructor using misogynist language, which prompted students to report the incidents to the department. According to Syme, neither of the cases resulted in formal complaints being filed.

In an interview last week, Syme told The Medium that the department has since held meetings with UTM’s equity and diversity officer, Nythalah Baker, to discuss and implement “classroom strategies designed to address insensitive, offensive, or aggressive student behaviour”. According to Syme, instructors have been asked to remind students that they are in a safe space and the importance of reporting incidents that students feel could jeopardize their safety.

Although Syme believes the incidents were isolated, their nature is part of a larger problem following the “disgusting online threats against feminist professors and the grotesque and disruptive performances staged by a number of young men in some of UTM’s classrooms (with an eye on YouTube hits) last term […] there is a continuing pattern of misogynist threats on university campuses”.

According to Syme, as part of the department’s “pedagogical mission to combat” sexism and other “retrograde behaviours”, Syme will hold a student town hall meeting later in the semester to address any questions regarding the department, including classroom culture.

The external review also reported that the department retains “highly productive faculty researchers who are leaders in their field” but faces “perception of gender inequality among faculty”. The report also claims such feedback related to gender inequality was not related to UTM as “eligible female faculty members have all been promoted or are under promotional review and most new hires are women”.

Permanent faculty in the department includes seven women and 10 men; over the last six years, three of the five tenure-track professors have been women.

When discussing the future of gender equality and diversity within the department, Syme noted diversity as an area where improvements need to be made.

“We have hired more women than men in the last decade, and I hope that trend continues,” said Syme. “One area where we have to improve is diversity beyond gender or sexual orientation: we don’t currently have any persons of colour on the faculty, although that has been a priority consideration in recent hiring processes. I’m afraid that reflects a diversity problem in our academic disciplines at large, one we still have to figure out how to change.”

Also under review, the English curriculum is being examined by the department to better respond to students’ diverse interests.

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