Wilfrid Laurier University officials have offered one of their T.A.s an apology for the way they handled a complaint surrounding her tutorial.
The issue started when Lindsay Shepherd, a master’s student, played a controversial YouTube clip about gender-neutral pronouns in her tutorial for students in a communications class.
The clip featured Jordan Peterson, a University of Toronto professor who infamously refuses to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she.” Shepherd said the video was meant to start a debate in her class, but university staff said it created a toxic environment for transgender students, and accused her of being transphobic.
After a recording of a meeting between Shepherd and officials was shared to Global News, the university’s president and vice chancellor issued an apology to her for the way the situation was handled.
“After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires,” the statement from Deborah MacLatchy reads.
“I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.”
The meeting, which Shepherd recorded in secret, took place at the beginning of November and the professor of the course, Nathan Rambukkana, was also present.
Shepherd said she presented the clip of the debate neutrally and without bias, but Rambukkana told her her approach to the clip was tantamount to remaining neutral on other objectionable views such as those of Adolf Hitler. She was told that she should have provided more background on Peterson’s views, including his connections to the alt-right and Canada’s Rebel Media, and condemned him.
Rambukkana also apologized in an open letter to Shepherd also posted online on Tuesday for those remarks.
“This was, obviously, a poorly chosen example. I meant to use it to drive home a point about context by saying here was material that would definitely need to be contextualized rather than presented neutrally, and instead I implied that Dr. Peterson is like Hitler, which is untrue and was never my intention,” he wrote.
He also apologized for having a panel of three people confront Shepherd in the “informal meeting,” which he admitted was intimidating, and for not providing Shepherd with mentorship during the process.
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“In not also prioritizing my mentorship role as the course director and your supervisor, I didn’t do enough to try to support you in this meeting, which I deeply regret.”
The school is creating an independent task force to look into the situation along with a review of their processes.
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Support for both sides
While many have spoken up in defence of Shepherd, there is support for both sides of the argument.
May Friedman, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Social Work, said that when discussing sensitive topics like transgender issues or a person’s preferred pronoun, “we have to be mindful it can be personally hurtful to people.”
“I think there is academic freedom, and then that there is harmful and hurtful material. And I don’t think that has any place in the classroom.”
She says that she would not hold Shepherd accountable, though, because T.A.s are generally not given a lot of training.
“I don’t think that this is something that this individual deserves to be demonized over, but I think that the whole conversation, at the same time, needs to be shut down.”
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*with files from Maham Abedi