Friday, 21 November 2008

My Campus Has Exploded

That investors are apparently not investing in my university at the rate they used to could easily be attributed (I think) to the economic downturn and everyone playing safe and stupid with their money. However, the campus bubble seems intent on blaming it on a number of factors, most of which seem reason enough to withdraw funds. Overall, you see, it seems as though my campus is going insane.

Want to know what happened lately?

[NEGATIVITY ALERT: the following contains little happiness. Do not procede if of a sensitive constitution.]

There. Now everyone will read this.

If you're from the area (or anywhere in the country, apparently), you'll have heard of the Homecoming street party fiasco back in my first year. In September of '05, there was an unprecedentedly large illegal street party on Aberdeen Street, which involved abuse against paramedics (I'm serious), abuse against a police animal (someone punched a horse), trespassing, numerous incidents of public and underaged drunkenness, arrests for selling liquour without a license, lacerations from thrown and shattered beer bottles, and most spectacularly, a flipped and flaming car upon which people danced. Until about 10:30, so I hear, people stayed on the sidewalk, but with cries of "F-ck the police!" students swarmed onto the street itself, which has become the default mode of the Aberdeen Street Party in the years since.

This warranted national news, apparently; people got uncomfortable calls from their parents back in BC who saw their child's drunken disorder in a special edition of whatever their closest major paper happened to be. It was on the cover of the Toronto Star and warranted a full report in the Edmonton Star as well.

Since then, donations have been a little slower coming in.

And since then, campus newspapers CANNOT stop talking about Aberdeen. It's almost as though there isn't anything else to talk about, except the flagrant misuse of student fees and tuition, which is hardly new.

Then, last year, some students in Engineering jackets (read: some Engineers) forced a female, Middle-eastern professor off of the sidewalk and made slurs of some sort towards her. The campus rags wouldn't actually tell anyone anything about the professor, of course, which was acceptable in this case--but it will be less so later on.

There was a students-against-racism rally that year. Someone pointed out that it was a few montsh too late, and then the rest of us pointed out that rallies usually take months or so to plan anyway, and that's when you know you're going to have a rally. When some incident happens, there won't be a rally the next day. Maybe it could have been a little sooner, but this particular student was being an idiot about it, and it seems he set the tone for the rest of the school ever since.

All of this was bad enough, but this year...

1) Some AMS employee left the T4s of ever student who worked for any AMS-affiliated business that year in the hallway, unguarded and unlocked, in a couple boxes label TAX RECEIPTS, for the entire summer. Someone code-named "The Cold Canuck" took one of these boxes and delivered it anonymously to the 'official' student newspaper, the Journal, so that they could deal with it. At this point, the Journal decided that the best course of action was to 1) not ask the AMS about it, 2) not publish anything about it, and 3) ask their lawyers to get back to them in a few weeks about any ramifications it might have if they did anything about this. After a few weeks, The Canuck, apparently seeing three Journal editions go by without a single response, left a sampling from yet another box for The Golden Words, the campus comedy paper, to deal with. The GW did an admirable job. They went to the AMS, made sure they dealt with the issue, and then printed a full expose on it, legal ramifications be damned. Once this happened, the Journal decided that maybe it ought to run a piece, and so it did, and then alternated between slamming the AMS and glossing over the issue. Talia Radcliffe, the AMS prez, decided not alert former employees about the problem, though, and so a friend of mine, who worked in an AMS business last year, found out through the newspaper that all of her personal information--name, SIN, date of birth, credit card numbers, everything required to perform identity theft--could have been compromised. Radcliffe has still not seen fit to apologize for this gross misconduct. The Journal refuses to call her out on it. No one's quite sure whether the Journal controls the AMS (whichever candidate the paper endorses always wins) or the AMS controls the Journal (they can cut the paper's funding whenever they want), but it seems like there's some serious puppetry going on. Diatribe, an anarchic-libertarian student-submitted magazine, has frothed about how badly both papers handled the situation, which I read as whining about not getting to be the one to do the expose. GW has gone back to comedy. Nothing happens about this issue ever again.

2) The Queen's University Muslims Students Association prayer-space gets broken into several times. A QUMSA banner is burnt. Student-aged individuals (presumably students) publically heckle a female Muslim student walking down the street with religion-derived insults. What's being called Islamaphobia seems to be writhing in the campus' bowels. Muslim students are obviously not happy. I am not happy.

3) Strange banners which may have been homophobic are found in the student ghetto during the Aberdeen street party. People don't know how to respond, largely because the slogans on the banners don't make any sense. No one knows what the creators of the banners were trying to say, other than that homosexuality has something to do with it. It fizzles after a bit, because it's so weird.

4) Jacob Mantle, the ASUS president, makes a remark on someone's photo on Facebook. Within hours, the paper finds out. The remark is, "Nice Taliban picture." The Journal says that he comments on students wearing headscarves. Because the Journal refuses to mention people's ethnicities, everyone assumes that these were Muslim students. They were not. They were white. He knew them, and knew they were not Muslim. However, most of the campus, thanks to the Journal's negligent journalistic practices, thinks that he said that to Muslim students. It hits the Globe and Mail. There's an explosion. People from left, right, and centre are asking him to step down. He refuses to apologize. The AMS announces that they would like him to step down, but cannot constitutionally impeach him. People yell and scream and want him impeached anyway. Then people figure out that the Journal misrepresented the event, and, despite it being an ignorant comment, swing to support him en masse. The Journal cannot report on anything else. It's crazy, and blown well out of proportion. People start hollering about racism at Queen's, despite the fact that the comment was not racist but Islamaphobic. Then things get even stupider.

5) On Hallowe'en, there was graffiti on campus. One incident said, "Expect Resistance." Another said, "Kill the cracker in yur head." White paint was dumped on the Queen's sign. People are obviously put off by this, and Mantle gains more public support. Yes, there's a culture of whiteness at Queen's (well, white-ness and Asian-ness--there are more Asian groups than any other category of club on campus). But the other two I don't understand. Does "cracker" help anti-racism? I don't think so. And what's this resistence? Should I wear a vest? What? This is why we have twenty-odd campus papers: if the bleeding-heart Journal won't publish your opinion (and they'll publish pretty near anything), then surely the hell-bent-subversive Diatribe will. I mean, somebody, somewhere, will publish what you want to say, and, if they won't, you can actually start your own newspaper whenever you want around here. Expressing yourself is easy. Being intelligent is apparently a lot harder. So let's avoid graffiti, shall we?

6) There's some sort of public forum about whether Mantle will step down. Word has it there might be a referendum, where members of the Queen's electorate can impeach him or something. I'm not sure what it was; I do know it was unconstitutional and would have had no binding power. The meeting exceeded fire capacity and was filled with angry people from both sides of the issue. Someone pulled the fire alarm, and everyone had to leave. The meeting was not resumed later. Mantle did not step down.

7) Radcliffe publically criticizes Mantle for not apologizing. A letter to the editor in the Journal rightfully points out that Radcliffe has yet to apologize for a much more heinious offence than Mantle.

8) Swastikas and the phrase "Dirty Jew" are soaped onto a Jewish student's car. That she was targeted implies that the culprit knows her. People really start freaking out. The Journal doesn't get around to mentioning that the student in question is Jewish on the front page, which is where the story featured, but part-way through the continuation of the story inside. I think this is relevant information, personally. The targeted student says she no longer feels safe here. Queen's Hillel says that they've never seen this before on campus; this was formerly one of the most Jewish-friendly campuses they know of. Everyone is shocked and appalled. And rightly so. This is disgusting behaviour, and I would break the perpetrator's knee-caps if I knew who he was.

9) The Journal editor, likely feeling under attack, writes a column about the paper's struggles with journalistic integrity and how it's easy to come and talk to her about the problems in a rational manner. She is right about most of it. The problem is not (entirely) with her editorship. It's with the structure of the paper, its reporters, and its over-developed sense of self worth.

10) The new principal, Tom Williams, cancels the Aberdeen Street Party, following conversations with donating alumni and, get this, a student plebiscite which supported the cancelling. Students are outraged. "How dare Mr. Williams," they say, "cancel Homecoming just because it's worsening town-gown relations, alumni have stopped donating, our degrees are worth less, and the majority of the voting student body wants it cancelled? That plebiscite shouldn't be binding, they say. You know the partying demographic doesn't vote (even though that that issue would be on the ballot was published in the Journal weeks in advance and there were Facebook groups exhorting you to go and vote against cancellation). It's not fair!" Stupid people. If you haven't figured it out, I support the cancellation whole-heartedly.

11) People from within the university and without are calling for Queen's to be more proactive in fighting racism. That the incidents have been entirely religion or sexual-orientation based seems to be lost on these individuals. Let me repeat: racism is not the problem; religious and sexual intolerance is. DO NOT CONFUSE THESE!

11) The university introduces a new task force of facilitators whose job is to listen in on conversations taking place in public spaces and interject if they hear gender slurs, homophobic language, racially-tinted insults, or the discussion of "social issues." Yeah, that's right. "Social issues." Now, these conversation cops (as they've been dubbed by the Globe and Mail) have no authoratative power besides publically confronting and "sensitively leading the conversation," but I don't think we should be surprised that the G&M has name-dropped Kafka and that students are voraciously arguing about this. Now it's not student stupidity that's dropped the reputation of our school, but the actual adminstration. Great job, guys. Just great. Now, I understand what they wanted out of this program and that they meant well. However, I'm also sure it's an immense screw-up. It'll be terribly ineffective, it will make people angry and confrontational, and it will at best drive racism 'underground' instead of dealing with it openly. Also, I love the blanc carte with "social issues." What does this cover? Can I talk about, say, creationism or abortion without getting molested by the thought police?

Apparently not...

12) In the most recent Diatribe, which was way better than usual, a submission pointed out that a particular Canadian university student union that is campaigning for lowered student fees and other student "rights" has as one of its issues the banning of pro-life groups from campus. That's right. If you're group is anti-abortion, this student union thinks that you shouldn't be eligible for your cut of the student fee dollars--or university recognition, for that matter. Pro-choice groups are still OK, though, and this union is in fact in the works of distributing pro-choice kits and helping with abortion advertising on campuses. Why is this the case? Well, apparently pro-life clubs espouse violence. Somehow. Despite being, you know, pro-life. Oh, and they're woman-haters. Despite being usually more than 50% women themselves. The submitter, pro-choice herself, thought this was stupid and inexcusable in a university, which was supposed to be about discussing ideas. Disallowing one of the members in the discussion to talk is not exactly the way to espouse conversation. And, yet, no one seems to be opposing this platform of the union. People just see "lower student fees" and jump on board.

Remember when I complained about Internet commenters? Apparently receiving an education only ensures that your idiocy is more articulate, more complex, and more in line with the rabidly liberal dogma of Canadian academia.

And let me be clear: I do not endorse Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other form of repression. Neither am I a fan of unrestricted free speech. I think the stupidest and most hateful people involved are the ones making the slurs and comments. However, I think the reaction to it has also been moronic, lamentable, and not even well-meant, for the most part. I am frustrated with most of those involved, but I have no idea how to make a change myself. My fear is that, even if I did articulate this, no one would be able to hear in the media frenzy that's taking place right now.

Also, I've just stripped another layer of anonymity by revealing which school I attend. Oh, well.


Cait said...

VERY well said. I think that you should find a paper to publish this for you. It needs more people to read it.

skatej said...

This sounds like such a frustrating situation! Sadly, in many cases the most that can be done is being a positive example for the other people on campus, and making it clear that seditious, insensitive, and uneducated speech will not be allowed in your presence.

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