Student group says it received hateful, threatening messages after recent news story

Photo: Emily Joveski/The Ryersonian

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published as two separate articles in the Ryersonian.

TORONTO (CUP) — The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has filed a complaint with the university’s discrimination and harassment prevention services (DHPS) in relation to a Ryersonian story.

The RSU’s Racialised Students’ Collective (RSC) says it received hateful and threatening messages after a March 13 story about two journalism students turned away from a meeting because they are white.

Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope attended an event hosted by the RSC on March 11 to cover it for a class assignment. When the students arrived to the event, it was explained to them that the meeting was a safe space for marginalized persons.

A safe space in the public realm is where marginalized people can share their views and experiences free of judgment. The students were asked to leave because they were reporters and were not victims of racialization.

The Ryersonian article had more than 100,000 views over the weekend on its website after it was shared to Reddit and several white supremacist websites.

“We are angered because since the release of this article we have received countless racist emails, telling us to go ‘back to our countries,’ denying the existence of racism, and others containing violent and threatening KKK slogans,” the RSC wrote in an open letter posted to the RSU’s Facebook page.

“These past few days have showed us that racism and ignorance are both still very much alive, and that the campus community is not always as supportive and accepting as some would like to say it is,” they said.

Read more: Student union files discrimination complaint with  university
Read more: RSC safe spaces private from public

DHPS cannot disclose any information about specific complaints they receive, but Ann Whiteside, a discrimination and harassment prevention officer at Ryerson, says if someone reported to the office that they were receiving threats or hate mail, DHPS would “definitely” recommend they get the police involved.

“If they were waiting to meet with us here, they shouldn’t wait,” said Whiteside. “They should probably go to the police themselves, quite frankly. Because hate is a very serious thing.”

Whiteside says it’s ultimately up to the RSU to decide whether they will report the messages.

The RSU regularly holds events that it says are intended as “safe spaces,” through the RSC and other campus equity groups such as the Centre for Women and Trans People.

Ryerson doesn’t have any official policies to provide students with information about the importance of safe spaces.

Likewise, Ryerson’s school of journalism has no specific policy regarding student coverage of safe space events. The journalism school will consider the issue at its April faculty meeting.

Brendan Myers Miller, a constitutional lawyer from Calgary, says their exclusion from the meeting might have been justified because the right to privacy of those in the meeting would trump the students’ right to report the event.

“If these people have a right to privacy, which I think they would in these sorts of counselling sessions, essentially they’re going to a safe space,” said Miller.

“The media’s right to access to that is overwritten by that. That expectation of privacy is higher than the right of the press to report.”

RSU president Rajean Hoilett says the student union is interested in working with the journalism school to better educate students about safe spaces and racial inequality.

“We are saddened because an opportunity for the Ryersonian to start the conversation about what solidarity and allyship could look like in the face of racism was lost,” the RSC wrote.

The group emphasized that white students “absolutely” have a role to play in anti-racist organizing, and “the first step in this role is learning and understanding why racialized students need space to organize together.”