Struggle Session at Wilfrid Laurier University


Provincial Party Secretary Wang Yilun, being criticized by Red Guards from the University of Industry and forced to bear a placard with the accusation ‘counterrevolutionary revisionist element,’ Harbin, China, August 23, 1966

I was more than a little troubled by this story:

Most recently, the media reported Lindsay Shepherd, a grad student and teaching assistant in Laurier’s communications program, ran afoul of her university bosses while instructing a first-year class. She showed a clip of a debate between U of T professors Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte. The debate, which previously aired on public TV, had Peterson explaining his objections to the use of non-gendered pronouns while Matte argued in favour.

Shepherd showed a three-minute clip to spark discussion but it seems someone in class complained that the ideas of Peterson made them feel unsafe. Shepherd found herself called before a hostile tribunal of her thesis adviser, the program chair, and the manager of the university’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Office.

Quotes from the meeting, which Shepherd recorded, show that she was subjected to a barrage of accusations as her motives and character were called into question. She was ultimately told she was not allowed to expose students to views like those of Peterson because, according to her thesis adviser, discussions that create “an unsafe learning environment” are “not up for debate.”

You can listen to excerpts from the recording Lindsay made here. And, to her credit, Lindsay holds up quite well, considering the tone of her, er, inquisitors.

Now, if you’re thinking that this all sounds uncomfortably reminiscent of a Struggle Session… well, I’d agree with you.

I know we all have bad days. After all, we’re only humans trying to do our best; we can be tired or irritable some days due to stresses and strains, and we can fall short of being the best versions of ourselves. But were both these professors having such bad days that neither thought to think that maybe this wasn’t a terribly good–never mind constructive or fair–way to treat someone who said they took a neutral stance on the video and is, after all, one of their students?

And, realistically, is what Jordan Peterson has to say really dangerous? I mean, come now, are the comparisons to Hitler at all justified? Peterson is as hard on Hitlerism and Fascism as he is on Communism in his talks; is that perhaps the issue for these inquisitors? To my ears Peterson’s work always sounds well-intentioned: part well-informed psychology and part knock-off René Girard, a French philosopher of violence whose work I found quite useful when I wrote this several years ago. And surely we could all spend a bit more time cleaning our rooms?

But I’d also ask is this really what Canadians–who, after all, are footing a serious slice of the bill–want (deserve?) to see happening in their universities? Should Canadian universities be ‘safe spaces’ where certain beliefs and theories simply must not be challenged? Places where anyone who even tries to question those beliefs and theories with evidence is immediately characterized as some sort of threatening bigot? Or should Canadian universities be places where academic freedom is enshrined? Places where difficult and complex issues can be honestly discussed and openly debated, using the best evidence available, to help us ascertain the truth?

I ask because this happened a very short time ago at UBC.


But Winston broke in the end.



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