A graduate student and teaching assistant landed in hot water over a video clip of Jordan Peterson she used in a critical thinking course. The university claimed she created a toxic environment. Here…
Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada reprimanded a teaching assistant for presenting debates on gender-neutral pronouns featuring professor Jordan Peterson in an impartial manner, and for failing to denounce both his views and MILO’s.
Administrators claim that her neutral approach in presenting Peterson’s debate was comparable to remaining neutral on MILO, whom they equated with Adolf Hitler.
Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student and TA at the school, ran afoul of the school for “transphobia” after she aired a clip featuring Peterson in a class on critical thinking. Peterson previously made headlines for refusing to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she.” In the debate, the professor sparred with an opponent against the use of preferred pronouns like “xe” and “xer” and discussed the nature of gendered language. In Britain, a man was fired recently for accidentally misgendering someone.
Following Shepherd’s class, an unknown number of students filed complaints against her. In Kafkaesque fashion, the university censured Shepherd, claiming that some students found it “problematic” and even “threatening.” Administrators added that she created a toxic learning environment for students by exposing them to Peterson’s opinions.
“I don’t see how someone would see it was rationally threatening. I could see how it might challenge their existing ideas but for me, that’s the spirit of the university—it’s challenging ideas that you already have,” said Shepherd in a secretly recorded conversation with university administrators (via Globalnews.ca).
“And I don’t know who this came from, I would be interested to see the original complaint or complaints because I don’t have any context as to what exactly their problem was,” she said. “The thing is, can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure they are insulated away from this—isn’t that what the point of this is? Because to me, that is so against what a university is about. I was not taking sides—I was presenting both arguments.”
The school authority asked if she gave any thought to the “teaching climate” she was creating by presenting the debate. “This is actually–these arguments are counter to the Canadian human rights code,” he said, citing C-16, a new piece of legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate against a person based on their gender identity or gender expression. “So, bringing something like that up in class, not critically, I understand that you’re trying to like…”
“It was critical. I introduced it critically,” replied Shepherd, who stated that the presentation was in the spirit of debate.
The administrator scolded her for not condemning Peterson. “In the spirit of the debate is slightly different than being like okay ‘this is like a problematic idea’ that you would maybe want to unpack,” he said.
“But that’s taking sides,” replied Shepherd. “It’s taking sides to be like ‘Oh, look at this guy. Everything that comes out of his mouth is BS but we’re going to watch anyway.’”
“So I understand the position they are coming from and your positionality. But the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students,” replied the administrator, who refused to identify who made the complaints or exactly how many people made them.
Shepherd asked: “The number of people is confidential?”
“Yes. It’s one or multiple students who’ve come forward saying that this is something that they were concerned about and that it made them uncomfortable,” replied the administrator. “You’re perfectly welcome to your own opinions, but when you’re bringing it into the context of the classroom that can become problematic, and that can become something that creates an unsafe learning environment for students.”
“But when they leave the university, they are going to be exposed to these ideas. So, I don’t see how I’m doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there,” responded Shepherd, who broke down and apologized for crying. Shepherd added that she never targeted anybody by exposing them to ideas that exist in the real world.
The administrator claimed that by merely presenting Peterson’s ideas without condemning them, she was validating his opinions.
“In a university, all perspectives are valid,” rebutted Shepherd, to which the administrator claimed that what she was saying was “not necessarily true.” Shepherd argued that views like Peterson’s existed in society, reiterating that she didn’t feel the need to shield her students from the outside world.
Asked if she would show a debate between a white supremacist and a non-white supremacist, Shepherd said that she would if it was important to give context to a current discussion. She added that she didn’t see what’s transphobic about showing a video of Jordan Peterson.
“He is a real person who has engaged in targeted behavior, or targeting of trans students, in a particular like basically doxing them if you know the term, like getting out their personal information so they’ll be attacked, so that death threats will find them,” claimed the administrator. “This is something that he has done to his own students—that he has done to other students. And this is something that the students are aware of.”
Peterson was accused of doxing communist activist Marco La Grotta, who participated in the shutdown of the professor’s event at Ryerson after he linked to the man’s public Facebook page.
“So this is basically like playing, not to kind of like do the thing where everything’s kind of compared to Hitler, but this is neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos or GamerGate,” said the administrator, adding that it was the “kind of thing” that Wilfrid Laurier University was “diametrically opposed to.”
The administrator asked Shepherd if she chose his speech as a reaction to the school’s policies.
“No, we were talking about gendered language,” she replied. “I was asking them to structure sentence using ‘they’ or ‘his or her’, and then we talked about the societal context of it, so I don’t get why I’m being seen as transphobic by virtue by proxy of me just saying–just stating, just exposing–Peterson’s ideas.”
“It’s more about if that’s rather than the intention. Obviously that wasn’t your intention but nevertheless it disturbed and upset students enough,” replied the administrator.
“So everything’s about those students who were disturbed? Everything’s catered to them?” Shepherd asked, adding that the most ironic thing about the debacle was that she didn’t even agree with Peterson.
Administrators concluded that Shepherd violated the school’s gendered and sexual violence policy by causing harm to transgender students by merely presenting Jordan Peterson’s arguments without denouncing them.
What’s the point of having academic freedom if you don’t have the freedom to expose students to the existence of ideas you disagree with, much less your own?
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