There are more than 2,200 signatures on a petition calling on a Mount Royal University professor to be fired after controversial comments she made earlier this week.
The petition is demanding the school “condemns Widdowson’s hateful actions against the BIPOC community and that she is terminated for her racist remarks.”
Associate professor Frances Widdowson calls the petition outrageous and said it’s an attempt to make the university political.
“It’s an attempt to turn the university into a political activist entity, as opposed to an intellectual space where people should be able to come together, explore ideas and figure out what’s true in the world,” Widdowson said.
The ire stems from Widdowson comments, quoted in the Western Standard, saying the Black Lives Matter movement has “destroyed MRU” and she “doesn’t recognize the institution anymore.”
Western Standard also quotes Widdowson as saying she doesn’t believe residential schools were “genocidal,” adding there was an educational benefit to them.
On Friday, Widdowson told Global News that it should be her right to make that argument at a university and she will defend that right.
“They haven’t shown at all how they’re [the comments] racist… Whether or not I’m right or wrong on this is really irrelevant,” she said.
“People are saying that I cannot put forward the argument at a university that the residential schools — although they had terrible problems and they had abuse, and they were of course — (but) were not genocidal.
“I’m making the argument that they were not genocidal and I’ve been told that I cannot make that argument at a university. And this is racist for some reason,” she said.
Members of the Black, Indigenous and persons of colour community disagree, saying her argument isn’t valid when it comes to the lived experiences of the marginalized.
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Marlene Poitras said there needs to be more education and the experiences of those who lived through residential schools should be considered.
“In the case of the residential school, there was a lot of abuse that took place …that the people experienced, whether it was sexual abuse or physical abuse. We had children that died at those institutions,” she said.
“I think that professor needs to educate herself and even do more outreach and try to understand the experiences of Native people in those residential schools,” Poitras said.
LJ Justice with Black Lives Matter YYC said comments like these are why the group still needs to continue its fight.
“It’s just important to realize why we need to keep doing this.
“If these people are teaching students and then later these students are going to be remembering these things that she said… it reinforces negative stuff that should never be out there.
“Teachers should never have like views like this at all,” Justice said.
In a statement, president Tim Rahilly said within the bounds of Canadian law, people have the basic right to freely express their ideas.
“When views are expressed by a member of the MRU community, it does not mean the institution shares these views. Equally valid are obligations that all employees have to cultivate an equitable, diverse and inclusive environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence,” Rahill said.
“Giving credence to both is challenging, but not impossible. We are reviewing the concerns in light of our strong commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression and our established expectations of the behaviour of all members of the MRU community.”
When asked about calls for Widdowson’s resignation, the professor said she won’t resign.
“I will never resign, I will fight to the end for the university to be an academic space.
“What we have to do at Mount Royal is we have to choose what kind of university that we want to be. And I was hired to be part of an academic university; I was not hired to be some kind of political consultant for some particular ideology.”