On December 1st, the Ryerson Feminist Collective held a rally about “reclaiming” safe spaces on the university’s campus called Take Back The Campus. The event was lead by the collective’s two founders; Social Work major and Planned Parenthood volunteer Jackie Mlotek, and another Social Work major named Alyson Rogers. Prominent speakers included Associate Professor of Social Work Cyndy Baskin, and city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam,
The protesters gathered to complain that Ryerson’s campus isn’t safe for them. They labelled the event as “an opportunity for people who have experienced discrimination, marginalization and hate on campus to take up space and share their experiences” and to send “a clear message that Ryerson is an equity-based campus and hate will not be tolerated.”
If genuine, their demands are absolutely fair. Universities are not a place for hate, discrimination, and marginalization- they’re meant to be spaces where people of all backgrounds and belief structures can grow and learn from each other. The problem is that they’re not as genuine as they frame themselves. Ryerson is one of the most left-leaning and feminist friendly universities in the country, what it isn’t is a safe space for people with opposing points of view.
The irony of two “CISgendered, white women” leading a protest for marginalized people was so obvious that Rogers felt the need to cover herself, saying:
“we make conscious efforts to use our privilege in good ways [and] to elevate the voices of marginalized populations“
The irony of her statement is that Ryerson has more services and organizations for people who are traditionally viewed as marginalized than one can shake a stick at. The speaker’s list gives us many examples:
- Pascale Diverlus is a 3rd year Journalism student. She is also one of the co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto Coalition and currently is the Vice-President of the United Black Students at Ryerson. She has also formerly worked with the Centre for Women and Trans People – Ryerson.
- Jackie Mlotek is a 4th year Social Work student, and a co-organizer of the Ryerson Feminist Collective. She works and volunteers for Planned Parenthood Toronto providing peer education for youth, and blogs for Shameless Magazine.
- Awo Abokor is a 4th year Biology student at Ryerson is one of three coordinators at the Centre for Women and Trans People – Ryerson at the Ryerson student union.
- Anuja Jeeva is a 4th year Sociology student, and works at the Ryerson Career Centre. She recently just completed her capstone project on Women Of Coluor on campus and safety, and accessing safety services on campus.
- Markus Bones is a 4th year Sociology student. Markus helped start the RU Trans Collective here at Ryerson and is currently a coordinator with the centre. Markus is also an outreach worker with the SOY Human Rights, Equity, Access Team.
Diverlus used her turn at the microphone to engage in Black Lives Matter style race-baiting, explaining how it’s “terrifying” to be a black woman on campus. If she was truly terrified she’d be taking advantage of Ryerson’s WalkSafe program where the school’s Security and Emergency Services team are available to escort her across campus for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ryerson Student Union’s VP of Equity Rabia Idrees praised the Feminist Collective for collecting a diverse group of people for the event saying:
“I applaud the Feminist Collective for recognizing that if you are going to speak about feminism, it can’t be based on one ideology or one framework.”
But how true is this? Do the organizers really believe in presenting a diversity of points-of-view? Well not quite, Ideres explained this herself commenting on the presence of Kevin Arriola of the university’s Men’s Issues Awareness Society saying:
“With his presence, this space became unsafe for some students who have been talking to him.”
Wow, Arriola must be some kind of a nasty racist, misogynist, homophobic asshole- right? Well, not quite, Rogers explained that her problem wasn’t with Arriola himself but with his association:
“Kevin, as an individual did not make me feel unsafe in that space, but certainly an individual that runs, represents and is a member of a men’s issues group made me feel unsafe.”
Had Arriola made a statement that he didn’t feel safe on campus because of the presence of a feminist group he’d be a misogynist pig, but he didn’t. Instead, he was a consummate gentlemen, gave up his own right to be there, and walked away from the event to leave them on their own. Ideres responded with an ugly insinuation his intentions might be “destructive”:
“I’m glad he didn’t do anything kind of destructive to [what was said] and I’m glad that he understood that he needed to leave as well.”
Arriola’s response to the hate and bigotry he and his group have faced made it clear he took the route of being a better person:
“I think it’s great that some students can have a space on campus and talk about social issues. I hope one day groups like mine are able to participate.”
This brings us to Ryerson’s real problem of exclusion. The groups represented at Tuesday’s protest all receive backing, money and other material support from Ryerson’s student union, the Men’s Issues Awareness Society could only be so lucky- they’ve been labelled as bigots (without examples of his group’s infractions, of course), and refused a place as an official group on the campus.
It’s not only the men’s group who’ve been discriminated against but other groups whose views don’t match with the narrative of the radical student union. Ryerson’s pro-life student’s group is an excellent example while Planned Parenthood volunteer Jackie Mlotek is given a stage to complain about Ryerson’s lack of inclusiveness Students For Life Ryerson is left having to file a discrimination lawsuit to protect their right for representation on campus.
Jewish students have faced horrible hate on Ryerson’s campus. In July 2013 a group connected to Ryerson’s feminist professor Judy Rebick ran an on-campus livestream where a participant known as “Taliban Billy” openly denied the Holocaust in the most racist of comments:
“I fucking laugh at the Holocaust. Seriously, I spit on the fucking Holocaust. The Holocaust was was not a fuckking genocide, if it was a genocide they’d all be fucking dead– but, no, they need the fucking Israelites to exist. Hitler was just something else.”
Recently, in October, an ignorant person wrote a very similar comment on a bathroom wall:
“Fuck Israel and anyone who supports the cocksucking Jews. Israel burn in Hell. Stealing Palestine’s land motherfuckers. I spit on Israelies [sic] face.”
Where does all this hate come from? The answer might be from the extremist views being trumped by people like Pascale Diverlus, and groups like Students Against Israeli Apartheid and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. Despite Ryerson’s position about being a diverse campus that respects the views of all, Diverlus’ campaign to be President of the Ryerson Student Union was partly based on a platform of hosting a series of events for Israeli Apartheid Week.
Use of the term “apartheid” is a highly contentious issue, representing the extremist side of the spectrum on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Israeli Apartheid groups have been highly divisive and have sometimes used force and/or violence to make their points. Jewish students have been assaulted by Israeli Apartheid protesters at university campuses across the country, the Canadian Union of Public Employees once campaigned to exclude Israeli speakers from campus. Diverlus is the worst kind of hypocrite- simultaneously campaigning for “inclusiveness” and promoting a hateful and vicious ideology that’s accomplished the very opposite.
This is where city councillor Krystin Wong-Tam comes into the picture. She joined Tuesday’s protest to support the hypocrites who ran it, and complained about the exact sort of behaviour we’ve seen from it’s other participants.
“What I am seeing across Toronto are too many incidents steeped in hatred and bigotry and ignorance.”
But what she didn’t tell the group is that she is one of the founding members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. She not only participated in the divisive and hate filled group’s rhetoric, but she used her credit card to pay for their website. Like Diverlus, Ideres, Mlotek, and Rogers- she too is part of the problem.
Wong-Tam is also the worst role model for young women imaginable. While most reasonable people who communicate online recommend a strategy of “don’t feed the trolls”, Wong-Tam stands in front of young women and recommends that they should do the very opposite- claiming that called a “c##t” constitutes a “threat”, and then explaining how women can capitalize on such insults:
“So that is the power of Twitter as well. Is that you also get to expose the nasty bits of people who are out there – and you know that they are all trolls – so the threats, although public, are public for everyone and you get to track it down. So that’s the good side, and the bad side.”
Wong-Tam is the perfect example of everything that’s wrong with the mindset behind Tuesday’s protest. Notice how she labelled anyone who disagreed with her saying, “and you know they’re all trolls”. In Wong-Tam’s world, and the world of Take Back The Campus’s organizers there are only two ways to think- my way or the highway. And rather than working towards solutions to hateful comments, she actually tells people to further ignite the fire by feeding hate-driven trolls.
The organizer’s statements are right, Ryerson has a serious problem with students being marginalized – and I’m sure there are cases where students in their cliques face genuine oppression – but they’re also part of a new generation of oppressors, harassers, and bigots on campus. And Krystin Wong-Tam should know better than to enable this bullshit…