Take off your old Queen’s sweater
Queen’s University, has been in the news quite a bit lately. The press hasn’t been good for the so-called Harvard of the North. I want to look at three stories that make me ashamed of my alma mater.
First, the rowdy yet boring Aberdeen street party, which many (including me) felt was ruining Homecoming, has officially ruined Homecoming. Principal Tom Williams has attempted to stem the carnage by cancelling the event for the foreseeable future, with the decision to be reviewed in two years. So far, alumni and student reaction has been furious, rushing to Facebook to set up protest groups and vowing to withhold donations to the university.
While more probably could have been done to fix Homecoming, and it seemed to be better controlled this year than a couple of years ago when a car got flipped over, this draconian step will likely have its intended effect. I see Homecoming being shut down for four or five years, tops, which gives the student body enough time to turn over completely and the tradition of the Aberdeen street party to fade from memory. It’s a shame, though.
Second, I was in Kingston last weekend visiting my girlfriend, and she saved me a few recent issues of the Queen’s Journal, which had found itself a juicy controversy to chew on. The Queen’s Alma Mater Society has called upon the president of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society to resign over an offending comment posted to Facebook. (The newspaper refers to this comment as “discriminatory” and “offensive”, which I think is undue editorializing in a news article, but that’s the Journal‘s yellow journalism for you.) The ASUS president, who I’m deliberately not naming, has refused to resign.
Good for him. The comment, posted to a photo of two girls wearing scarves and sunglasses, said, “I like your Taliban picture.” Offensive? Possibly. Stupid? Probably. Just a joke? Yes, pretty obviously. He ought to have known better than to make an off-colour comment in an only semi-private forum, but it’s not that bad and it was almost certainly done without any real malice. So I’m glad he’s refusing to get pushed out over this and I hope he hangs tough. Bleeding-heart politically correct students do their share of good insofar as stamping out intolerance goes, but on the other hand, they really can be a bunch of humourless, reactionary babies.
Of course, the recent federal election saw several candidates forced to pull out over similar comments or questionable photos posted to Facebook. (The primitive cultures who thought having your photo taken stole your soul might have been onto something — it can at least mess up your life pretty badly.) I’ve gotten the editorial cartoon treatment from the Journal myself, and I did have a question about my own controversy later pop up in a job interview, but thank God that was before the real onset of the Internet age. It’s just a shame that this kid is just a year or two away from hitting the job market, and this story is the first thing that pops up when you run a Google search on his name.
And third, possibly influenced by the previous story but also no doubt linked to a spate of some other nasty incidents on campus, Queen’s has hired “conversation cops” — so-called student facilitators charged with stepping in when they overhear homophobic, misogynist, or racist remarks. The use of the word “facilitators” smacks of Doublespeak, since I’m not sure when being spied on by language police ever made things easier for the average person. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to use an Orwellian term in this instance.
This troubling development smacks of a fascist police state mentality, and it is itself more offensive than the offenses it seeks to stifle. I’m not in favour of hate speech, as a rule, but at the same time, a university is supposed to be about freedom of expression in the exchange of ideas, and this is an official statement that some ideas, at least, are not to be discussed.
A couple of the examples given in the article are a little baffling. Does deriding something as “retarded” foster an atmosphere of exclusivity toward the mentally retarded students on campus? And it’s now frowned on to avoid another student’s birthday party for faith-based reasons, but should Jehovah’s Witnesses (who don’t celebrate birthdays) come under fire for following their religious beliefs? That seems contrary to the intent of this initiative.
I also wonder what’s going to happen if a black student uses the word “nigger”. Will he get a free pass on using it, or will it still be wrong? And if so, will the faciliator be too nervous to step in? What about gay students who feel like reclaiming “faggot”? You can’t really tell who’s gay by looking at them. Conceivably, a couple of frat-boy types could get a four-year licence to use the word by earning their gay cred with just one open-mouthed kiss in front of a facilitator. It’s actually kind of funny that Queen’s students are theoretically banned from saying the name of their own school, since “queens” is a potential homophobic slur.
The language police get free room and board in exchange for eavesdropping on their fellow students, by the way, so you’d better believe they’ll do whatever it takes to justify their existence. Everything I’ve read says they’ll simply make nuisances of themselves by interrupting private conversations whenever they see a “teachable moment”. It doesn’t say anything about snitching and turning in neighbours who display defective thought. But then, this is a campus where people troll around Facebook looking to get offended, so you never know.
There’s an old Space Moose comic that comes to mind, which comes from a story arc where the protagonists interrupt a Take Back the Night march with a hail of gunfire (needless to say, Space Moose would horrify the average student facilitator): “I overheard a sexist joke yesterday, so I called the police.” says one earnest looking feminist student. Says another, “Your rights end where my feelings begin.”
This is now official policy at Queen’s University. Frightening.
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