Letters to the editor

Responses to the Queen's Bands suspension

Dear editors,

I was incredibly shocked and disappointed to hear of the suspension of the Queen’s Bands performances for the duration of this year. In my opinion, the Bands embodies the spirit of Queen’s unlike any other organization on campus.

In fact, it is one of the oldest groups at Queen’s, with traditions dating back to its conception in 1905 — some of which tie to the very subculture the Bands is being persecuted for promoting.

And if you want to know the reason these traditions exist, it’s probably best to ask the alumni who continue to support the Bands that they were a part of during their time at Queen’s.

If some of these traditions violate the university’s mission and standards, then it’s time for a change, because they certainly do not represent the core of the Bands’ values. But instead of unilaterally imposing a ban on performances, this change is an opportunity to work collaboratively with the Bands to realign the goals of the University and Band members.

The Bands is about being part of a family and part of an amazing university. If you truly recognize the special place the Bands holds in the Queen’s community, don’t suspend their performances.

Victoria Osborne
BSc ’10

Dear editors,

The recent decision for the AMS to ban the Bands for the rest of the semester represents a disgusting repression of one part of the student body’s rights to free speech, and to present themselves in manner in which they see fit — even if it’s a manner which the AMS would not approve of, or fund.

It should be obvious that no Queen’s Bands members were offended — or, more appropriately, offended enough to bring [Bands publication] “The Banner” to the eyes of the AMS. It would have only taken a single unknown — or rather, anonymous — individual to bring the material under the eyes of the AMS for the administration to deal its lightning fast brand of so-called “justice.” What I imagine happened was that someone outside the target audience (members of Queen’s Bands) had managed to procure a copy, or several copies, and found it offensive.

The main fault I find in the response of the AMS and the administration was the universality with which they acted. Here, the administration is condemning the entirety of the Queen’s Bands simply by association — it contends that all Queen’s Bands members require human rights and equity training — as if all of them perpetuate stereotypes and whatever else the content of “The Banner” might suggest.

Worst still, once the Queen’s Bands members are released, they will cite the success of the training — for, yes, it’s easy to train a person not to be intolerant if they’re already not intolerant. And it will not do any good for those with real prejudices; all they’ll be taught to do is keep their voices quieter in these types of instances, and to never put pen onto paper wherein they could be apprehended — something they’ve already learned over the course of their lives.

It would be unfair to leave the AMS with just my criticism, but believe me when I say that I criticize the AMS because I expect more from them. This is because the AMS represents the students, and I expect a lot from my fellow students. However, the AMS has obviously has its own take on the recent fiasco with “The Banner,” and while I may call their reaction to the publication a mistake, an even greater mistake would be to not let the students have their say on the matter.

We must remember that the AMS manages the money of the students, and represent the interests of the students. And while the AMS should deal with offensive material quickly, it’s in cases of publications like “The Banner” that do not have the widely-known context of publications like Golden Words, where there is a possible doubt that perhaps people are not all intolerant hate machines, where it’s the AMS’ job to release the offending documents. Here, we must let the publicans defend their works, and let the students decide what’s offensive and what isn’t offensive.

Anthony Wong
ArtSci ’14

Dear editors,

I want to commend you for posting the Queen’s Bands songbook under Katherine Fernandez-Blance’s article (“Bands banned for term,” Nov. 18, 2011). That took guts, but it was absolutely the right thing to do in the circumstances. A newspaper must deliver the news, and since the songbook is part of the story, your readers need to have access to it.

I suppose that you are hearing criticism of your decision. Don’t let the bastards get you down! You did the right thing as journalists and scholars, and you should be proud.Ms. Fernandez-Blance’s article, by the way, is very good. Much more informative than the article in the Globe and Mail, which alerted me to the story.

The next brave thing to do is to give voice to the members of Bands.

Mark Mercer
Department of Philosophy
Saint Mary’s University
Halifax, NS

Dear editors,

The Journal has done a massive disservice to members of the Bands by referring to material from “The Banner,” a defunct publication that current members were unfamiliar with. Further to that, the offensive “lamp quote” was printed out of context (even in context, this very quote was being condemned as offensive!). The Journal acted irresponsibly and without integrity. While it should certainly not be covering-up problems, neither should the Journal be repeating slanderous and unsubstantiated claims, such as those made by [Dean of Student Affairs] Ann Tierney.

One of the real tragedies about the way this story was reported is that any attempt to ask people to consider the many fine young people in the Bands (who are opposed to rape and racism), has been immediately seen as somehow tolerating rape and racism. The problems of misogyny and racism are serious but the outright dismissal as invalid of views that differ from one’s own seems to me to be the greater problem.

I am completely aware that my argument will probably cost me the respect of some of my colleagues, people I admire for their tireless advocacy for the rights of those who have been oppressed. They may see my perspective as equivocating, as complicit in perpetuation of a culture of misogyny, as someone who does not appreciate the power of privilege to oppress. I am not defending the offensive material in the songs; I am criticizing the way valid concern over these songs was handled, first by officialdom and now by members of the Queen’s community — from current students to alumni.

I sympathize with Ms. Tierney. Asking that traditions be re-evaluated is never going to be an easy sell. I believe the administration is completely correct to object to the use of the logo and name of the Queen’s Bands on the songbook. We have a long way to go before we can be confident that ours is a completely welcoming community that feels safe for everyone. We all have a role to play and, therefore, I argue that condemning one another because “they” don’t see the situation the way “we” do, is not helpful. I am deeply concerned to read the comment [on queensjournal.ca] from one student who says she feels threatened by the Bands. Is this because of what she has experienced or because of the claims made in this article?

To repeat then, I am not writing to defend song lyrics. I am writing to question the creation of an atmosphere of discomfort, for those who feel that their safety is threatened by the Bands as well as for the Bands members who now feel vilified and the subjects of the suspicion and contempt of their peers. As an alumna, I want all Queen’s students to be treated with respect.

Anne Johnson
M. Ed 09

Dear editors,

Queen’s Bands was once a completely male-dominated entity. Currently, some 80 per cent of the Bands executive is composed of women. Women have been in charge of internal writing and material distribution for years.

These women have taken something that was once seen as the domain of men and turned it into something that is purely their own. They are not delicate flowers seeking approval from others, but rather strong and confident people who do as they want.

The offensive Bands publication, “The Banner” was an internal humour publication much like the campus-wide Golden Words and is both banned by Bands and is also out of print, meaning it wasn’t an issue when the story broke. The songs in the songbook are what’s left of a collection that was started some 100 years ago, with songs being cut from the list over the years as internal complaints arose.

Are we to condemn a group for singing sexually explicit songs, in private, amongst themselves, in their spare time?

At least one university administrator, Ann Tierney, decided that this issue needed to be huge and public. This new black eye to the university was something Tierney knew would not go over well with the student population.

These actions indicate a level of malice. Other clubs at Queen’s have been guilty of similar infractions and have always been allowed to deal with it privately.

It warrants serious analysis and concern that Tierney went ahead with making this issue a public spectacle, further hurting Queen’s standing and shaming a much-loved group within the University, despite personally feeling that it would endanger students. Furthermore, as part of the complaint, she relies on materials that the 80 per cent female-dominated Bands executive already banned before this issue came up.

That means this entire hoopla is over some dirty songs sung by university students, in private, which Tierney has decided she has special authority to find offensive. Offensive enough to require publicly shaming and endangering the very women of Queen’s Bands she thinks are so at risk as to require her protection.

I wonder if people would be so approving of Tierney’s enforcement of norms to further the liberation of women if she were trying to ban the Hijab because she thinks it’s a mode of oppression and therefore should be allowed to force its removal. Who is Tierney to tell others what oppresses them?

I have the personal privilege of knowing women who are part of Queen’s Bands. They are not now, nor have they ever been victims, and that’s despite Tierney’s best efforts to turn them into exactly that. These women can’t be kept down, and I know they’ll be back.

David Myers

JD ’13

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