Novelist George Orwell once penned “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That very well could be the case of double standards reaching Orwellian heights on a Canadian university campus. As reported by the Campus Reform news portal on March 20, 2015, two white students enrolled at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada were politely told they weren’t allowed to even be present at an event hosted by the Racialised Students’ Collective (RSC) held on campus.
First-year journalism students Julia Knope and Trevor Hewitt, who are white, attempted to attend a meeting billed on the RSC’s Facebook page as Building An Anti-Racism Community On Campus. As Hewitt explained to Campus Reform, “Julia and I walked into the room and after about four seconds, was approached by Saget-Richard and asked if we were there for the meeting. I answered yes. Saget-Richard then asked me if we had ever been racialized before. I replied that no, I had not.”
It was then that both Hewitt and Knope explained that they were attempting to attend the event as part of a class assignment. Nonetheless, despite the event also being advertised on Facebook as “a space to voice concerns and barriers affecting students of colour” and also open to the public, the two were politely shown the door by group organizer Chrys Saget-Richard. Or as Hewitt stated, “Saget-Richard then explained that the room was a ‘safe space’ and that if we had not been racialized we would have to leave.”
The school’s official newspaper, The Ryersonian, interviewed RSU coordinator Vajdaan Tanveer over the phone who explained that the reason for the meeting was so members of the collective could meet at a safe space on campus, where they can have an open conversation. “We don’t want (racialized) students to feel intimidated, that they can’t speak their mind because they are afraid of being judged or something they say might be used against them,” Tanveer said.
When asked specifically about Hewitt and Knope’s being ejected from the event, Tanveer verified they couldn’t remain was because they are white. For his part, when Hewitt was asked about his thoughts on possible corrective measures to be taken in in the future, he plainly stated “the RSC needs to be clearer in their future event notifications as to what events are open to all students and which ones are safe spaces, open to only certain self-identifying groups.” Not done yet, Hewitt went on with “the debate on whether or not these public tuition funded spaces should be able to turn people away based on the idea of a ‘safe space’” should be further discussed.
The Racialized Students’ Collective is part of the Ryerson Students’ Union and in fact does receive its funding directly from the school, who in turn, get all of their funding either from tuition paid by the students/parents or from the Canadian taxpayer. The RSC’s official university website states that the group seeks “To create and anti-racist climate on campus that will foster a healthy and rich working and learning environment for all,” as well as specifying that the group places special focus on the following:
- To provide a safe space for students who have been discriminated against and/or students who are committed to anti-racist action.
- Building an anti-racist network
- Fostering an anti-racist environment through campus-wide services, campaigns and events
- Addressing concerns and challenging systemic institutional and overt racismat Ryerson.
- Contributing to Ryerson Students’ Union programs and actions to address racism on campus.
Ever the model of the modern Canadian embrace of diversity and acceptance, Ryerson notes that the school’s safe space policy (dubbed the “Positive Space” policy) states that its goal is “To increase the visibility of and contribute to the development of positive, supportive people and spaces for LGBTT2SQQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, 2-Spirited, Questioning, Queer, Intersex, Ally) students, staff and faculty at Ryerson.” Though specifying members of the LGBTT2SQQIA community, Ryerson ensures it is common practice that its principles extend to all ‘marginalized’ groups across campus.