The University of Toronto administration walked a fine line between ensuring student safety and spreading fear.
Last week, Toronto Police began an ongoing investigation into comments on a BlogTO post by the user handle “KillFeminists”that encouraged graphic violence against students in U of T’s women’s studies and sociology departments.
Toronto Police have since discerned “no credible threat”, but security at the school remains alert. There have also been reports of similar threats in June that went unpublicized.
The university initially sent out an email on Sept. 10 notifying students of the threat, but didn’t specify the targeted group.
This was later followed by an email to women’s and gender studies students to alert them of possible increased security measures.
The day after the second email, U of T’s student newspaper, The Varsity, published an article that quoted students saying that they didn’t think that the university had done enough to ensure their safety.
Among the concerns raised was that the university hadn’t informed the targeted students of the nature of the threat in their initial correspondence, they didn’t discuss an emergency plan and the threat wasn’t taken seriously enough due to its gendered nature.
It does matter that these threats were directed towards feminists specifically. Violence against advocates of feminism and gender equality is definitely not unheard of at Canadian universities.
Therefore, no university should take shortcuts in ensuring students and staff’s safety, and any information that might prove integral to protecting those vulnerable to attack should be communicated.
But, by extending the spread of hate speech, the university risks assisting the intent of this threat: to scare and intimidate people who stand up for gender equality.
The line that U of T then has to walk is between mitigating risk, and mitigating progress.
It is important to maintain an atmosphere that’s not only safe, but also non-fearful and proud.
President Meric Gertler’s statement of condemnation for the threats is a good example. His statement and pride for a long-standing history of women’s and gender studies at U of T is heartening in its encouragement.
It takes a lot of bravery to continue to stand up for what you believe in when you’re receiving death threats.
The power generated by public backlash in support of gender equality can do exponentially more good than any hate caused by anonymous online threats.
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