No one is suggesting that vile slurs have any place at the University, but neither does the kind of mob-like brutality which characterizes many students’ responses
To the young people who have found such glee in attacking their professors; your self-righteous instrumentalization of identity politics, it must be said, is hyperbolic and misdirected. The contract-professor in question, as well as the 34 professors who defended her, are deeply committed to social justice. It may be fashionable to stoke outrage on social media, but students ought not to be purveyors of uncritical publicity, which inevitably damages themselves and their causes.
In this case, the ‘N-word’ – albeit a vile and weighty word – was taken out of context and the controversy ignores the historical and analytical background of French-Canadian history – which one must remember is also marked by colonial oppression. French-Canadian intellectuals of the 1960s were among the first to promote de-colonization through poetic and historical appropriation of the word. I must share that, given my personal and professional acquaintance with many of these professors, I can confidently confirm that their ambition is not the gratuitous use of racial slurs and certainly does not indicate prejudice on their part, but rather to defend their colleague from a witch-hunt which has no interest in the nuance of her intention.
The open letter in question is a legitimate response aimed at protecting the educational principles of critical thought and academic independence (i.e. not being subject to cyber-threats). Another important factor which is sorely missing in this scandal is understanding and empathy. Professors like Lieutenant-Duval and those who signed the open letter must empathize with their students daily, especially when grading papers and exams. Accordingly, we as students need to cultivate our empathy and appreciate how difficult professors’ jobs have become, especially faced with increasing inter-generational hostility from the very students for whose education they have dedicated their adult lives.
Make no mistake, no one is suggesting that vile slurs have any place at the University, but neither does the kind of mob-like brutality which characterizes many students’ responses. Of course, the University must be a safe place for students’ sensibilities, but it also should be safe for professors to discuss difficult subject matter. Ironically, what began as a denunciation of systemic racism has devolved into francophone-bashing online. The fact that this still happens at a bilingual university like ours proves that students, no matter how ‘woke’, have much to learn about reflexivity, not to mention the balanced, thoughtful and respectful debate of ideas. This saga makes one wonder where the true intolerance lies.
Ryan Lux is a doctoral candidate with the school of sociological and anthropological Studies. He studies church closures in Quebec.