Letters to the Editors

Racism at Queen’s reveals lack of progress towards real diversity

Dear Editors,

Re: “Racism on campus” (Journal, Nov. 23, 2007)

How could we, centuries after the abolition of slavery; thousands of memoirs, books and dissertations later that explicate the detriments of racism; hundreds of policies ratified with aims to circumvent the social stagnation wrought through racism, we as an international community have moved no further. For it is now clear to me that in 2007 Queen’s University, a renowned academic institution, has been marred and tarnished by the abhorrent behavior of white elitists.

We know all too well the insurgencies created through negation of pressing matters; therefore, it is with this intolerable sense of racial tension that I humbly ask:

How could we reduce ourselves to primordial behavior and allow ourselves to be influenced by the unfounded principles which racism rests upon? It seems surreal that in 2007 academic students would exhibit insulting and distasteful behaviour towards a lecturer attributable to the colour of her skin.

How could we request that lecturers discuss the problem of racism in class as a response to the aforementioned ordeal, with hopes that discussing the problem would produce possible resolutions? If we were truly serious about combating the pervasiveness of racism within the Queen’s community I’m convinced that this response wouldn’t have been a response, but rather these steps would have preceded the situation instead of trailing it; systematic problems require systematic solutions.

How could we think it mere coincidence that a school with such a remarkable reputation for producing some of the brightest and brilliant minds within Canada not attract a more diverse student population? “Engaging the World” say ye; which world might I ask is this? The one where the only comfort students of colour can find is within a small student-run organization (Queen’s African-Caribbean Student Association); one where the milieu resonates with white supremacy; a world where even lecturers are not immune to the taxes of racism. We can continue to assert, “At Queen’s you will become a part of a tradition of excellence that … extends around the world”; but the truth remains this “tradition” is a subjective one and this “world” seems very narrow from the perspective of a young black male observing from the inside out.

It’s commendable to attack ignorance which so easily translates to racism by the appointment of history professor Barrington Walker as the diversity advisor. I would like to be optimistic about the deterrent effects discussions will have on racism at Queen’s; a change in attitudes will be integral to a change in relations among the different races. However, administration must be more dynamic in its condemnation of racism and the same fervor must be exhibited in its investigation and prosecution of any founded racist incidents, lest any half-witted attempt seem more cosmetic than helpful.

Let it be known that this is not an attempt to vilify the white race, or even place the onus of racism on every white Queen’s student. Rather, this serves as a clarion call for racial equality.

Though cliché, we must first admit to having a systematic problem. Then like any great enigma that lost its defining factor, we must seek to uncover solutions to the problem. I emphasize solutions; for history has proven time and time again, any one solution cannot seek to eliminate this recurring scourge that seems to transcend time itself.

After we have vented, settled our consciences and overcome the question, “How could we?,” we must then look to resolving the problem and ask ourselves “How can we?”

Miguel Colebrook

ArtSci ’11

Smith misses opportunity to offer refreshing perspective

Dear Editors,

Re: “The lost art of courtship” (Journal, Nov. 23, 2007)

I was intrigued to read Scott Smith’s student perspective on the chivalry phenomenon. I have read a myriad of articles on the lost art of courtship, but the majority have been written by adults championing the dubious cause of abstinence-only education. I expected something refreshing, but was frustrated that Smith offered a limited view on a complex issue that deserves further evaluation free of the gender biases he frequently draws upon to sustain his argument.

Smith asks, “What happened to boy meets girl?” He should have considered that the lack of a boy-meets-girl attitude towards dating at Queen’s today gives more opportunity for girl-meets-boy. Instead of lamenting the fact that a man hasn’t asked her out, the average female Queen’s student will confidently extend an invitation herself. Why should a guy go out of his way to open a door for me if I’m closer to the building? Certainly, empathy and respect for others should be expected. But limiting this courtesy to women does a disservice to both sexes. I agree with Smith that it’s “not right” that in our increasingly urban and globalized society, we often forget simple politeness. However, calling only on men to extend these thoughtful gestures perpetuates the outdated idea that women are the “fairer sex” or should be treated with more care than their male counterparts.

Smith admits that he has done his share of partying, and most of our student body has undoubtedly had similar experiences. However, what he sees as the shame of meaningless hookups and the devaluation of one’s virginity is not necessarily the tragedy it is made out to be. Most guys don’t experience the stigma many women do in relation to their sexuality, but we have all heard (and probably said) labels like “slut” or “player.” It has become disturbingly common for people to bemoan the degradation of the dating culture and ignore our generation’s right to control our own behaviour and make our own decisions. In reality, the so-called “hook-up culture” of university campuses is a reflection of the fact that young women as well as young men can have control over their bodies and their sexuality. Unfortunately, Smith prefers to intimate the idea that “what it means to be a man or a woman” is to sustain an antiquated, discriminatory system of gender hierarchy.

I’m in no way saying that all liberated teens and twentysomethings should be going home with someone new every weekend. But the fact that some students are doing just that and enjoying it doesn’t signify a corruption of their values or a lack of judgment on their part, as Smith suggests. Many people, guys and girls alike, prefer romance and chivalry and there’s nothing wrong with that either. But perhaps the death of traditional, outdated ideas of chivalry isn’t all bad.

Courtney Langton

ConEd ’09

Signed editorial relies on old value systems

Dear Editors,

Re: “The lost art of courtship” (Journal, Nov.23, 2007)

I was appalled by the insensitivity and ignorance of Scott Smith’s editorial, “The lost art of courtship.” The article focused on the lost virtues of chivalry, proposing that male Queen’s students be re-inspired by the “old-fashioned ideals of being a gentleman.” It would have been perfectly fair to write an article about diminishing politeness and increasing selfishness in our society, but Smith chose to write a sexist and heterosexist article with many problematic aspects.

First of all, the article began by declaring that gender is naturally connected to one’s sexed body. This suggestion that all bodies are unambiguously male or female—and that having either penis or vagina is a “self-evident” truth—excludes many individuals who don’t identify with those two genders.

Next, the editorial reinforces stereotypes of both women and men; it implies that men are motivated by meaningless or casual sexual encounters, and laments women’s interest in similar behaviour as a loss of values. Smith’s idea of what a “lady” is supposed to be (i.e. one who wants a man to pay for dinner, among other things) goes hand-in-hand with the mentality of women as the “weaker sex” that has perpetuated inequalities around the globe.

The irony is that Smith’s editorial was published alongside one about a Saudi Arabian woman who has been sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashings after being gang raped by seven men. Discussions of what women “should” expect need to consider these types of revolting inequalities, rather than relying on old-fashioned value systems and assumptions that I had hoped were behind us.

Katrina Keilhauer

ArtSci ’10

Signed editorial calls for ‘unequal division’ of sexes

Dear Editors,

Re: “The lost art of courtship” (Journal, November 23, 2007)

Does anybody else see the cruel irony of having an article reinforcing the role of the dominant male and subordinate female placed right next to an article on the gang rape of a 19-year-old woman?

Now, I don’t want to imply that we can compare the Queen’s student culture directly with the specific Saudi culture presented in those articles. There are, of course, many differences between the two that would take a much more complex analysis to flesh out. I would have thought it fairly obvious to anybody, especially a university-educated “journalist” and the editor of a campus newspaper, that first, writing a piece that reinforces and calls for the unequal division between men and women is totally inappropriate and harmful to female Queen’s students, staff and faculty; and second, that placing such writing directly next to an article on the gang rape of a 19-year-old Saudi woman is not only inappropriate but also distasteful and insensitive.

In “The lost art of courtship,” Scott Smith writes that “women are the new men.” Are women really the new men in a world where seven men can rape a woman and that woman gets a jail sentence and 200 lashings? Smith is clearly writing from a place of male entitlement and privilege that allows him to truly believe his words and not see how damaging they can be. Not only does he take it upon himself to speak on behalf of all women, he also generalizes the wants, needs and actions of all women (and men) at Queen’s University. His statements don’t take into account the unequal power distributions between men and women all over the world (not to mention the heterosexism, gender binary reinforcement, biological determinism and the infantilization of women present throughout).

Even here at Queen’s, Smith seems to imply that women are the new men because they “are as eager to get drunk and make some bad decisions.” Do you really believe we are past a place where it is OK for a man to make many “bad decisions” whereas it is highly inappropriate for a woman to do the same? Where she will be stigmatized and he will be applauded? I don’t.

Come on, Queen’s, let’s bring good journalism and a strong sense of social responsibility back.

Barb Besharat

MA ’09

Smith should take 50 years of feminism into account

Dear Editors,

Scott Smith's "The Lost Art of Courtship" fails to address a key movement that has women all of the country behaving in "unlady-like" fashion: feminism. Comments such as "women are the new men" completely discount the role for shifting social constructs of gender and instead remain rooted in 50s-era stereotypes of women as damsels in distress and men as the white knights of their destinies.

So what, are women who are now able to take control of their own sexuality considered sluts, propogating a decline in "chivalry" through their soliticious behavior? Are men only all the more willing to pursue this licentious behavior? In Smith's words, a return to "old-fashioned" chivalry will re-emphasize the true meaning of male-female romantic interaction and will promote meaningful sex and the maintenance of virginity. Too bad it will also result in the continued marginalization of women and will re-assert the double standards apparent in such a male-centric vision of sexuality.

Furthemore, Smith's article once again conforms to stereotyped social constructs of gender by asserting that males should behave "like gentlemen" while females should behave "like ladies." Tacking on a begrudged "no matter your preference" at the end of the article does nothing to negate its blatant heterosexist tone and still fails to address the division between sex and gender.

Finally, as stated, Smith is not a biology major. The female counterpart to the penis is the clitoris, not the vagina.

Stephanie St.Clair

ArtSci '09

Separate chivalry from stigmas of inequality

Dear Editors,

Re: “The Lost Art of Courtship” (Journal, November 23, 2007)

“I’m not a smart man, Jenny, but I know what love is,” said the iconic Forrest Gump in the film of the same name. I know that in Mr. Smith’s last article he promoted a return to chivalry.

Some people, the occasional woman, that is, will have a problem with this. I believe their problem is that they cannot separate chivalry from the old stigmas of inequality. Women are smart and athletic and all that jazz; we can’t really deny it anymore. “It’s science”, as Ron Burgundy would say.

To me, holding the door for a lady or always taking the tab when on a night out has nothing to do with women be incapable of doing these things. I have to plead with my girlfriend sometimes to let me do those things, but it’s not like I don’t think she knows how to push/pull a door or that I’m somehow incredibly more talented than her at doing so (though I am pretty talented with a door).

When we’re chivalrous it’s because we like to put women on a pedestal. It’s like royalty, and yes all the men reading this are gonna call me a sap, but that’s OK. You know they can do the things but you do it for them because they shouldn’t have to do those things. Like rich people and paying appropriate amounts of tax, or celebrities and cleaning their own homes. You put them on a pedestal, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I figure if little ol’ stupid me can figure out that women are pretty smart yet still want to keep them on the pedestal and treat them, at least occasionally, then it has to be a pretty clear division. Women are equal, there I said it, not the same mind you, but why does their being equal have to stop you from wanting to treat them, wanting to love them and wanting to be an alright guy, not that you will be all the time, but you’ll probably want to be, right?

Scott Seabrooke

ArtSci ’10

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