By: Joshua Weresch

It has been a long time since I’ve spent any measure of time on McMaster’s campus. I used to visit the art museum and Mills Library when I was there during my undergraduate days.

Those were almost ten years ago now and I hear, through the local media, only occasionally what’s happening on campus.

I’m a Hamiltonian, born and living here, a settler on Anishnaabe land and it’s been in that intervening decade that I’ve been coming to learn about history, about the stories that have been told and re-told, all of this in service of my vocation as a writer of songs, as a husband and father of three children, as a supply-teacher for this city’s public-school board, as a chaplain at a local long-term care home.

Things have, certainly, changed in those intervening years, though it’s hard to say whether it’s me or the place or, perhaps, both. There is little wistfulness in those changes, though because change must come.

What, we should ask, should abide? What is the place of a university in these times? What I have learned in those early years has been refined by life in the present days; fatherhood, solidarity, brotherhood, the ways that families age and change: all these things bear noticing.

What should abide is a commitment to gentleness and to peace, to a mutual understanding of others and their lives. If there are things that continue in the present, they are not things at all, but the relationships that formed around people and friends, formed, failing and flourishing.

In the spirit of these friendships, in the obligation of citizenship, I write this letter now to present students at McMaster and to those who read the Silhouette. I would ask that the university continue to be a place where peace can be made and found, where healthy, human relationships can continue to present themselves to one another.

A concrete way that such things can be done is by the complete refusal of the university to acquiesce and cooperate with institutions that deal in death in its many forms. If any research is being done on ways to destroy and degrade the human person and body, it must cease. If any co-operation is occurring between the military-industrial complex and the university, it, too, must cease. If any destruction of the natural environment is happening, because of the university’s action or inaction, it must, finally, cease.

I have acted on these principles as best I can by refusing to support the McMaster Alumni Association until the university acts on these principles, divesting from fossil-fuel companies, publicly standing with those who are being marginalized and oppressed in our present society and elsewhere. It is only as this university acts as a vision of a possible future that support for its various actions and arts can be gained.

I write this letter in hope.

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This letter was written in response to "Tuition advocacy comes to fruition" by Rachel Katz in our March 3, 2016 issue. 

Recent news of Ontario's new budget was expected to be met with jubilation across post-secondary school campuses due to plans for free tuition.  As Rachel Katz's story in The Silhouette reports, “for long-term advocates of affordable tuition (this) marks a significant victory”.  Except that this is really not a victory at all for those of us who are actually studying at a university or college right now, and this fact seems lost on the news media, as well as many students who haven't yet realized the implications.

     Rather than lamenting that full tuition will not be provided for those in more expensive programs, the emphasis here should be on the fact that those already burdened with crippling student loans, and those about to graduate by next year, got absolutely nothing from the Liberals.  After all, the whole point of lowered tuition is to reduce student debt.  Yet the message we got was that only those low-income families and individuals who will be in school from 2017 onward matter.  Why this is the case, and how no one in government didn't see the gross inequality, is a mystery.  Put into perspective, many people finishing a standard four year degree next year will have accumulated approximately $30,000 owing after graduation, while their counterparts entering university during the 2017-2018 school year will finish with only about half that amount to pay back as a loan.

     Perhaps there should be a push now to reduce the overall debt of current and past students still struggling with these obligations.  A lifetime cap, as has been suggested previously by some, of $20,000 total would be a nice start.  After all, we also have tuition tax credits which could be put toward that purpose.  What we have now is a two-tier system, where in ten years time one generation of grads will have huge loans to still pay off while their younger cohorts enjoy a huge head start in life.  In a country which constantly screams about equality, this oversight is truly appalling and mind-boggling.

Re: “Editorial: Need for SRA reform persists” by Sam Colbert [Published March 7, 2013 in Opinions]

By David Moore, MSU Alumni Association President

 

In “Time for reform,” The Silhouette argues the Student Representative Assembly is broken and prescribes ways to fix it.

Is the SRA perfect? No, but a closer look of The Silhouette’s arguments is in order.

The editorial suggests the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Democratic Reform concludes the committee “accomplished next to nothing.” The report I read noted challenges faced and several substantive issues which the committee discussed at length. To dismiss work undertaken during 15 meetings over six months is neither accurate nor fair.

The editorial also says the Committee discussed “...inviting the part-time managers of MSU services to be members of the Assembly.” No, the Committee discussed eliminating a rule that prohibits them from serving as voting members of the SRA. PTMs already have observer status giving them speaking rights so their voices may be heard at the SRA.

Regarding equitable representation, detailed reports scoped out the issues and offered options to inform the debate in which the SRA (for better or worse) made a conscious decision to retain the status quo.

The Silhouette argues that the SRA needs to be bigger because the student body has grown. Web sites, email and social media are among the tools to inform students – and receiving their input – that didn’t exist when the Assembly’s size was set. A larger SRA is no guarantee individual members would be any better and significant expansion would make for a less effective group dynamic.

The editorial further calls for other elected student leaders on campus to be made members of the SRA. In fact, academic society presidents and others have observer status at the Assembly so their voices can be heard.

Are observers less effective than voting members? No, not when decisions are guided by the strength of arguments.

The editorial also contends interest in running for seats is low. Five seats were elected by acclamation, but that’s down from ten last year and the number of candidates in 2013 was the highest since 1994.

The SRA will always have room for improvement, but the facts should be accurately and fairly presented to buttress calls for such improvement.

Re: “Israel Apartheid Week: divisive and deceptive” by Alon Coret [Published March 14, 2013 in Opinions]

By Will Innes, Humanities III

 

Mr. Coret might have a point, and I can’t help but agree with him that IAW does focus too much on one country. However, I disagree with his assertion that IAW is a cypher for anti-semitism in Canada. If anything, putting the spotlight on Israel to the expense of human rights violations in neighbouring countries speaks to a deep underlying Islamophobia in contemporary discourse.

Israel is criticized because Israel is held by Western public opinion to the standards of civilized nations. Predominantly Muslim “Arab” nations are less criticized because they are not held by Western public opinion to the same standards as Israel. IAW is symptomatic of a system of attitudes that is quite content to include Israel - much as it included apartheid era South Africa - in the community of civilization.

Only in the context of being within a community of communities can criticism ever reasonably be offered of policy to any standard above that of the particular sub-community. South Africa was called to account by the rest of the West precisely because it was identified as a nation from whom better was to be expected by the 1980s than practices officially abandoned in, for instance, America by the 1960s. Western critics of Israel call attention to the pernicious antics of the settlement lobby because they fundamentally consider Israel to be among a group that includes them.

To contrast, “Arab” nations “escape” this criticism not because of any favouritism, but because of an underlying cultural and arguably racial bias that excludes them from the emotional space occupied by the Western community. In such a symbology of contemporary discourse, Israel is the neighbour whose critics wish would better mend her fence - a civilized person - while the Saudi, for instance, is simply a particularly wealthy savage from whom no better can be expected.

IAW does not exemplify anti-semitic tendencies. The lack of an equally high profile popular critical movement in the West targeting the abuses and depredations perpetrated by the regimes neighbouring Israel against equally valuable individual human beings provides a classic example of Islamophobia that screams its eloquence against the supposition of Western moral universalism.

Last week, the Sil posted an online editorial [“Editorial: Our MSU pres has other qualities, too” – Sept. 7] about a CBC Hamilton interview with the McMaster Students Union’s president, Siobhan Stewart. The editorial argued that the interviewer focused too heavily on the fact that Stewart was a black woman in power, neglecting other aspects of her leadership. Among the feedback the Sil received was a response from Sarah Ali, which appears below.


In an ideal world, everyone would be equal – our prisons would not consist primarily of one racial group, one gender would not be regularly assaulted, and we would all attain status and prosperity through our “merit.” This concept of merit would not have been created and defined by one particular group – it would be something to which everyone could aspire. And in this magical, ideal utopia, this editorial would have been spectacular. It would call out a person who dared to upset the special harmony we all lived in by insinuating that race and gender had any real consequences for any person, particularly one in power.

Unfortunately for Sam Colbert, we do not live in this utopia. We live in a world where socially constructed myths about race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability play an enormous role in our lives. These myths are institutionally and culturally coded – when a North American child is born a non-white female, her earning potential is immediately capped. She’ll likely not make more than 53 cents for every dollar earned by a white man (white women earn, on average, 78 cents on the dollar). Her risk of falling into poverty is two times higher than that of a white woman. Her risk of being sexually assaulted, particularly if she in Indigenous, is two to five times higher than white women (one in four white women will be assaulted throughout their lifetime). This little girl will regularly see herself portrayed negatively in popular media, and she will find that normative conceptions of beauty do not include dark skin, or bodies that do not fit within a narrow range. It is a certainty that she will be exposed to hundreds of thousands of images that imply (or downright tell her) that her worth is measured by her fairness, her waistline, her breast size or her ability to be sexually attractive (but not too sexually attractive, then she might give the wrong message).

This girl will have been born in a country where People of Colour make up majority of the prison population and cash poor, are regularly the victims of discriminatory hiring and firing practices and are regularly reminded that they are, for all intents and purposes, second-class citizens. When she is born, she is interpellated into a world where women are regularly the victims of violent crime, often at the hands of their partners, and where those who assault women are only convicted 35 per cent of the time, and 78 per cent of those convicted are given sentences under two years.

She’ll likely watch her male peers (some of which she may have trained) consistently move up employment ranks, while her position stays static. She'll likely be blamed for being too "feminine", or perhaps not "feminine" enough to be a competitive choice. If she does make it into a position of political power (be it the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, Senior Partner in a law firm or President of a highly competitive and ambitious Student Union), as so many inspiring Women do, she will be consistently scrutinized, and under extraordinary pressure to perform. As my mother used to tell me, "If you ever want to succeed, you have to be twice as good as everyone else: once because you’re a girl, and once because you’re Brown.”

Now particularly in a University with a history of conservative values, and in a Students Union that has not prioritized social issues, being a female President is an extraordinary feat. Last year, along with many strong Women of the MSU, current President Siobhan Stewart drew attention to the gender disparity in Student Politics during the Leadership Summit for Women. Of course our Women presidents have had other qualities – Mary Koziol is an ardent environmentalist, Siobhan Stewart has striking dedication, but they are still Women. Inspiring, extraordinary Women who had to fight gender bias, a culture of sexism and patriarchy, and a concept of "merit" defined by white men in order to get where they did. And Being a Person of Colour makes that achievement even more significant. Indeed, Siobhan Stewart shatters the glass ceiling that Women of Colour in the McMaster community know so well. To acknowledge that is not “condescending,” it is crucial. These Women are leaders and role models to the young Women and People of Colour in the McMaster community, acting as trailblazers and torchbearers for a new generation of McMaster students.

But when we tell a Person or a Woman of Colour that we “see past race”, we tell them that, to us, race and gender mean nothing. This sounds like a good idea – not seeing colour appears to eliminate the problem, but truly it exacerbates it. As Dr. Monica Williams writes, “most underrepresented minorities will explain that race does matter, as it affects opportunities, perceptions, income, and so much more.” Dr. Williams calls this phenomenon a culture of colorblindness. She writes, “[w]hen race-related problems arise, colorblindness tends to individualize conflicts and shortcomings, rather than examining the larger picture with cultural differences, stereotypes and values placed into context. Instead of resulting from an enlightened (albeit well-meaning) position, colorblindness comes from a lack of awareness of racial privilege conferred by Whiteness.

When we tell a Woman of Colour that she “got where she did on merit… independently of her skin colour,” we tell her that her experiences of racism and sexism are illegitimate, and that we are going to show her that by pretending they do not exist. Colourblindness perpetuates racism, while simultaneously denying its very existence.

Truly, it is understandable why Sam Colbert does not acknowledge the significance of Siobhan Stewart’s race and gender. For him, like for many others, this is not a groundbreaking achievement. For him, this is not a testament to the tenacity and strength of the McMaster community, and the Women of Colour who inhabit it. For him, this is just another MSU Pres. And that is really not his fault. He did not grow up knowing that his identity is transgressive, that he would be more likely to die from racialized sexual assault than to finish University. For him, race and gender have never really meant anything. I suppose when you are on the privileged end, you never have to be bothered with that sort of triviality.

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