Letters to the Editors

Response to diversity feature

Dear Editors:

Re: “Confronting the ‘other’ on campus” (Journal, November 17, 2006).

As a Queen’s student who would “not identify as a visible minority,” I was somewhat disturbed by the general tone in this article, and by some fellow students’ comment quoted in the article. I find it difficult to understand how those involved in putting together this exposé think that raising cultural issues in such a way is going to solve any problems on campus. Are there more white people than the “other” on campus? Yes. Are the Journal and the AMS guilty of labeling people? Definitely. And so what if the school isn’t as multicultural as York or U of T?

I think most Queen’s students agree that the atmosphere here is far more welcoming than schools of that size in spite of our demographics. All that is accomplished through publishing such an article, is highlighting our skin-deep differences, and creating more boundaries than are torn down. By labelling ourselves by something other than “Queen’s students” we are serving no purpose but to alienate those that, until now, didn’t think of themselves as “different.”

I particularly disliked how our own associate dean of student affairs, Jason Laker, segregates the students further. When suggesting ways in which to deal with issues of diversity and engagement, he said that “marginalized populations need a safe place where they can come together and really think … about what it means to be of the particular population,” and “non-marginalized populations” also need to meet, but to discuss “their fear, their guilt.” Laker, as a white person I have no guilt for being who I am or being here. And to Ms. Navaratnam, who complained that “I’ve never had a professor that [looked] like me, ever,” are you complaining that there are too many white professors?

If I were to attend a university in a fairly homogenous country, for example, India, would I complain of a “culture of brownness” when I didn’t have any professors that looked like me? Of course not, because when you come to another country, you accept and embrace the demographics for what they are.

I was under the idea that we had made great strides in eliminating prejudices in society, but it appears that there are still those who put so much importance on background that they lose sight of why they came to this university.

Kevin Thompson
ArtSci ’09

AMS endorsement of candidates sparks debate

Dear Editors:

Re: Letter, “AMS loses its credibility after municipal election endorsements” (Journal November 17, 2006).

Thank you, Professor Wehlau, for having taken the time to record your “amazement” at the choice of the AMS to endorse candidates in the municipal election. It is clear, however, that your reasoning in attacking the student representative body at this university fails to stand up to even a minimal level of scrutiny.

You state that the AMS “has lost its credibility in the community.” This, as anybody who lives in Kingston should know, is patently false.

The , not normally known as a bastion of pro-student opinion, lauded the AMS candidate endorsement and grading process as a good way of integrating students in this community. If we have lost credibility, then I have no idea why our candidate grades and endorsements were debated and cited among candidates to such a great extent. This is the first dubious point that you make in your diatribe.

Further, you state that the AMS should be a “neutral body.” I recommend that you check your understanding of what we do before you make such a comment in the future. We are a student government, meaning that we represent the interests of students at this institution in the community. We are just as legitimate an interest group as any other group that endorses municipal candidates in this city, like the Kingston Labour Council, for example. Seeing that you question your continued use of the P&CC due to your displeasure with the AMS as a whole, would you similarly refuse to patronize any Kingston business that uses unionized labour because of an equivalent distaste for partisanship? I think not.

Finally, and perhaps most distressingly, your real reasons for attacking our candidate grading and endorsements become clear when you state that “the majority of students will be gone within four years, while decisions made by the mayor and council will have long-lasting consequences.” Your position seems to be that students here have less of a right to exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed franchise than any other person in Kingston. Reality check, Professor Wehlau: the right to vote for citizens in this country does not come with an exception for university students. It is dangerous comments like this one that exacerbate whatever town-gown conflict happens to exist, not the political involvement of students at this university in the Kingston community. I, for one, am glad that so many of my fellow students took the time on Nov. 13 to exercise their right to vote for the future of Queen's students in this community. For the students who voted in greater numbers than we have seen in a decade, thank you. For Professor Wehlau, one final question comes to mind: would you have been so angry if we had endorsed your choices for council and mayor?

Ryan Quinlan Keech
AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner

Dear Editors:

Re: “It’s time to dispel the stereotype” (Journal, November 10, 2006).

Did anyone else find the AMS’s role in the recent municipal elections unacceptable for a student government? Not only was their endorsement of candidates problematic (Harvey Rosen and Ed Smith), as well as the manner in which they did it (a concern that other letters to the Journal have voiced), but their actions on election day were insulting to both fellow students and, especially, others living in Kingston.

How does the AMS explain entering classrooms on election day to distribute material, consisting of a slimmed-down version of what was already pathetic analysis (comments like “understands students’ contributions to society” or “not a strong student advocate” are inadequate) of the mayoral and council candidates, with the added offer of van rides to the polling stations?

Wayne Cox, a professor in the Political Studies Department, was furious after the society’s volunteers left his morning lecture, having felt that class time, not to mention a captive audience of students, were being exploited to further a particular political agenda. Unfortunately, what could have been a campaign to bring about more awareness and discussion of local issues, and to urge greater participation from students in the local elections, was instead a highly unethical effort to persuade students to “Vote for Rosen.” The election is over, but this doesn’t mean that the AMS should be let off the hook for the role that it played.

With this in mind, if you also experienced some form of pestering from the AMS on election day, I invite you to contact me at 5jch@qlink.queensu.ca or write to either the Journal or the AMS directly.

In the very least, we might be able to raise enough concern to prevent similar problems in 2010. Of course, it would be great if the municipal affairs commissioner, Ryan Quinlan Keech, would step down. It is about time that students and faculty began to develop a more responsible body for representing the university in its unavoidable relationship with both city hall and the broader community.

Jake Hammond
MA candidate

Two students running against each other created the problem

Dear Editors:

Re: Letter, “ ‘No shame’ in running for city council” (Journal , November 17, 2006).

If Alex Huntley had a problem, I wish he had just called me instead of playing this out in the paper. But much like the summer, when he planned his run yet knew full well another student had already registered, he failed to pick up a phone.

Let me initially make something very clear; I do not blame my defeat upon Alex Huntley. Anyone with any sense of math knows 1,180 is a much larger number than 297. Student apathy surely did me in. In my material, I made clear that apathy was indeed our greatest affliction. The problem with any student vote split was not that it was the central problem, but that it rubbed salt on this already apathetic wound.

Two students running against one another created problems. Huntley’s suggestion that combining our vote tallies gives a reasonable idea of what a single student could have accomplished is a pretty limited view. If only one student had run (while winning is no guarantee), the AMS could have more properly backed a candidate, and students would have read about the merits of the student candidate and the importance of voting, rather than having to compare and decide between such similar views.

The AMS exemplified what a number of students suffered from throughout the election; they had such a hard time seeing a difference between us that they opted not to do anything. The Journal editorial makes an excellent point in noting that “all candidates have to work to differentiate themselves,” and to be sure, I tried my best.

I wrote an “Open letter to students” as a means of displaying the clear differences between us in terms of the work we’ve done for students, why we ran against one another in the first place, and where we differed on some issues. Huntley has suggested I ran a negative campaign, and I can only counter with this statement. Everything I wrote was true.

It was odd that Huntley wrote the letter to the Journal that he did. After all, when we met in September and I suggested working together, his sentiments were clear: “It will just come down to whoever runs the better campaign.”

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith
ArtSci ’07 and municipal elections candidate

Kayssi wrong in views on changing Arab world

Dear Editors:

Re: “Press freedom changing in the Arab world” (Journal, November 3, 2006).

Ahmed Kayssi refers to Salah’s explanation of how Arab rulers are thwarting democratic reform. Salah assumes that a democracy can be established if the dictatorial leaders were simply thrust away.

I beg to differ.

The U.S. State Department's 2005 acknowledged misogyny in Middle-Eastern countries, indicating that “domestic violence against women was a problem”, “women have few … social rights,” and, “social pressures discouraged many women from pursuing professional careers.” Furthermore, female genital mutilation remained “widespread,” and was “socially accepted” in some countries.

The populace’s recognition of individuals’ rights to express themselves freely is unprecedented. Those conveying ideas that differ from societal norms usually suffer from ostracism, pressure to conform, threats, and even physical harm.

Due to traditional and religious norms, religious and ethnic minorities are continuously discriminated, and sectarian tension and rhetoric are commonplace.

Hence, a democracy cannot sprout unless the people willingly accept its foundational bases: freedom of speech and faith, and the equality of the people regardless of their gender, race and creed.

Furthermore, Kayssi states that, “enrolment in post-secondary education is… a sign that people want progress.” How many women earn post-secondary degrees without ever making use of them under duress? How many men pursue their doctorates in the West while their wives are forcibly imprisoned in their homes? Do their degrees indicate progress?

In order to progress, it is insufficient to learn what to think. We also need to learn how to think, how to believe in our potential, and how to realign our intellectualism with the 21century. We must bear responsibility for our failures, and discontinue living in a state of perpetual victim mentality in which every dilemma encountered is to be blamed on Western (or Zionist!) conspiracies.

Nevertheless, I share Ahmed’s optimism. For example, the former Dean of Islamic Law at Qatar University, Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, said on U.A.E. TV: “We haven't taught [our children]… how to build, be productive, create, and invent … Our duty is to make our youth love life … With tolerance, religious pluralism, and diverse religious thought.”

Well said.

Mohammed Shouman
Sci ’08

Buy Nothing Day is a day to ‘acknowledge our power as consumers and the effects of our purchases’

Dear Editors:

Buy Nothing Day (BND) is upon us; and you’d expect that I, as a “raging lefty” (my father’s words), would be peeing my pants in anticipation. Though I am going to celebrate BND, I would like to address what I see as some major flaws with BND as it currently exists.

Most of us will be familiar with the two “types” that butt heads over political events like Buy Nothing Day:

Type one: The “radical” supporters who often have difficulty keeping their self-righteousness contained. Coming to minds are the groups I’ve seen on BND staked out at malls, where their presence translates into a condemnation of shoppers rather than the establishment any form of dialogue with them. And Type two: The reactionaries who have a seeming obligation to attack any action of the hippie-pinko-commie-anarchy loving-freedom hating-leftists (all of these things which they may be, but that’s beside the point). For example, I’ve recently heard of an instance of the burning of posters advertising Buy Nothing Day in a high school.

The result of this conflict is an event with an unhelpful notoriety, whose reputation overshadows the message of the day itself.

But for this Buy Nothing Day, I hope to see more of Type three: the reflective, engaged, and calm individual (no screaming, no burning). For me, Buy Nothing Day is not a day to absolve ourselves of a year of built up “consumer guilt.” It is a day to reflect on our consumption, to acknowledge our power as consumers and the effects of our purchases, and hopefully to learn from each other. I plan to leave the screaming matches to the first two types at a picket-line outside a Wal-Mart; me, I’ll be learning about factory conditions in Malaysia (apparently where a great deal of my T-shirts are from). Will you join me?

Jessica Rust-Smith
ArtSci '08

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