UTMSU released a letter to U of T on Thursday, protesting the “transphobic” and “racist” comments made by U of T’s psychology professor Jordan Peterson in two of his online lectures posted on YouTube.
On September 27, Peterson said in his lecture that he doesn’t recognize the genderless pronouns that some people prefer to be addressed with.
In a CBC article on September 30, Peterson re-confirmed what he said in the lecture.
“I don’t recognize another person’s right to decide what words I’m going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people,” said Peterson in the article. “They might have a point but I’m not going to say their words for them.”
In his other lecture, dated October 3, according to UTMSU’s statement, Peterson was not pleased with the anti-discrimination and the anti-bias training that U of T mandates its HR professionals to take.
UTMSU’s letter alleged that a U of T professor refuses to acknowledge “the use of personal pronouns, and has the audacity to try to rationalize and quantify racism as something subjective.”
The letter also addressed some concerns regarding the university’s action on a situation like that of Peterson.
“The University has failed to act on this situation and this ultimately showcases that ‘diversity, inclusion, and equal respect,’ are simply legalities and are not principles that the University intends on upholding,” stated the letter.
U of T’s response
In an interview with The Medium, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of media relations, stated: “[Peterson] is entitled to have his opinion. Academic freedom means that he can share his views on the university’s policies, […], but like all members of our community, he’s also required to follow our policies and to create a respectful learning environment, and one that’s free of discrimination.”
U of T’s Statement of Equity, Diversity, and Excellence outlines that the university seeks to increase its diversity and aims to have a community, including teaching and administrative staff, who also mirror the diversity.
U of T’s statement also highlights the creation of a diverse and inclusive, equitable community that respects and protects the human rights of the U of T members.
“The University is committed to its internal policies on issues related to equity, and also operates in compliance with all legislation that bears on equity and human rights,” says the statement.
Blackburn-Evans said that U of T is proud of the diversity that it has within the community. She also said that the university has been clear on its position around “celebrating, fostering, and supporting diversity”.
“That statement [of Equity, Diversity, and Excellence] is quite unique. I’m not aware of any other universities that have such a statement,” said Blackburn-Evans. “It really reflects the fact that this is a very important set of principles at the University of Toronto.”
UTMSU’s letter also addressed U of T’s Governing Council, by requesting five demands: An apology from Peterson, the deletion of his “transphobic and racist” lectures from YouTube, obligatory anti-oppression training that is held every academic semester for all levels of U of T including faculty and administration, and a town hall with U of T’s president Meric Gertler, provost Cheryl Regehr, vice-president Angela Hildyard, and Peterson.
UTMSU also demanded action following U of T’s commitment to “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.”
When asked if any plans have begun yet to address UTMSU’s demands, Blackburn-Evans said that since the letter was just released, she “can’t comment on the specific demands and what might come out of that.”
In addition to UTMSU, the statement was signed by the president of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, Black Liberation Collective, the executive director of OUT@UTM, LGBTOUT, and UTMSU’s LGBTQ coordinator.