No ideas, please, we’re a university

Andrew Robinson, associate professor of Human Rights and Human Diversity at Wilfrid Laurier University, thinks their policy on [what they call] gendered violence needs urgent repair.

The public’s reaction to the treatment of a Wilfrid Laurier University grad student at the hands of two professors and a rep from the university’s Diversity and Equity Office (DEO) has been one of horror and outrage. The resounding opinion was that student, Lindsay Shepherd, was completely in the right when she offered both sides of a debate involving the use of non-gender pronouns.

And while the public has agreed Shepherd was right, she wasn’t. At least not according to a disturbing regulatory policy enforced by my university. In fact, in the meeting where Lindsay was subject to a verbal inquisition, Adria Joel, the DEO rep, cites the policy, known as Laurier’s gendered and sexual violence policy (GSVP) as justification for her claim that Lindsay was guilty of “spreading transphobia.”

Yes, I noticed that when I transcribed some of the inquisition. I wondered how they were defining their terms.

While Laurier’s president is avoiding talking about the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy, I won’t.

The policy has its roots in government legislation. Ontario’s Bill 132, passed in 2016, required universities to have a policy on sexual violence. That law defined “sexual violence” in terms of assault and harassment “targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.” This is laudable; harassment and assault are wrong (and I condemn in advance anyone who would use this letter as justification for harassing or threatening anyone).

Apparently not satisfied with a definition of sexual violence that was good enough for the Wynne Liberal government, Laurier’s board of governors approved a policy that innovated by creating the following definition of gendered violence:

“An act or actions that reinforce gender inequalities resulting in physical, sexual, emotional, economic or mental harm. This violence includes sexism, gender discrimination, gender harassment, biphobia, transphobia, homophobia and heterosexism, intimate partner violence, and forms of Sexual Violence.

UH oh. You can see the problem without any wrinkling of the brow, I’m sure. It’s in the fact that we know from repeated experience that any dissent from a long list of Revealed Truths will be called “transphobia.” Well there you go: you have performed sexual violence and you must be punished and ostracized. You can’t ask what it means to “identify as” a woman; you can’t ask what it “feels like” to be a woman or how anyone knows; you can’t even ask why people are demanding to know what you believe in the first place. You can’t do anything at all, in fact, if you don’t imitate the jargon exactly and fervently enough for beady-eyed observers.

So, yeah. It’s either march with the Virtuous, or be accused of gendered violence – yes you, a woman, a feminist woman, you are the most likely of all to be accused of gendered violence, because you’re supposed to be centering trans women (who are women), not talking about those hateful privileged cis women.

Unlike the Wynne Liberals’ definition, Laurier’s “gendered violence” doesn’t just prohibit harassment and assault, it prohibits ideas.

Quite. Been there, saw the T shirts.

No one should comfort themselves by thinking that these concerns are limited to Lindsay Shepherd. Every student who registers at Laurier in any of its programs, tacitly agrees to have their personal conduct regulated by the GSVP: in tutorial, in lecture, online, “when on University property or when off campus,” and regardless of the “time of the incident (e.g., evenings, weekends, and holidays).” The sanctions approved by Laurier’s board include disciplinary warning, behavioural contract, suspension, and expulsion.

As for respecting diversity, under the GSVP all views are welcome, so long as they are not all expressed, no matter how reasonably. Inclusion? Violate this orthodoxy, anywhere, anytime, and a fellow student may see that you are included in an investigation under the GSVP.

When Laurier announced the details of its task force on academic freedom last Thursday there was still no mention of the GSVP. The task force is only directed to recommend “a statement on freedom of expression.”

If Laurier really wants to make a statement about its commitment to freedom of expression it will remove its ideological definition of gendered violence from the GSVP, now.

Maybe Laurier merely identifies as making a statement about its commitment to freedom of expression.

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