Letters to the Editors: March 24

Re: Queen’s Alive has no place on campus, On Fall Reading Week, RE: BDS has no place in student government, On Israeli Apartheid Week

Re: Queen’s Alive has no place on campus

The discussions my social work peers, professors and I had were a highlight of my university career. Though on opposite ends of the abortion debate, we valued each other’s contributions. Isn’t that what education is about?

Not according to Kyle Curlew, who is appalled whenever he crosses paths with pro-life clubs and believes they shouldn’t be permitted on campus at all. I’m sure we’re all appalled about certain ideas others hold, but most of us believe we should challenge, not muzzle them. 

Free speech is already limited by the Criminal Code. Promotion of genocide, for instance, is illegal. Pro-life speech is legal and does not promote hatred towards those who have (had) abortions. Interestingly, the pro-life organization I work for employs two times as many females as males.

Nonetheless, Kyle insists on banning pro-life groups; first, because the stigma resulting from their public presence is potentially triggering. What then about a Palestinian Solidarity club triggering a Jewish student whose Israeli relatives were killed by a Palestinian extremist? It can be difficult to come across groups that raise an issue you’re affected by, but does that justify silencing them?

Kyle’s second reason is that pro-life groups allegedly advocate for the removal of human rights. So does the Canadian Charter include a right to abortion? Patricia Maloney dismantles this claim on her blog. 

The third reason is pro-lifers’ alleged “spreading [of] misinformation, logical fallacies and distracting red herrings to bully and shame people into supporting them.” Kyle does not refute the scientific fact that the pre-born are genetically-distinct human beings from fertilization and that abortion directly ends their lives. 

Thankfully, Kyle acknowledges that “a university is a bastion for legitimate knowledge that’s been crafted through rigorous methods and real debate.” If he truly believes this, I respectfully challenge Kyle to a formal debate. If the pro-life position I defend is as flawed as he asserts, it will stand no chance in the court of public opinion. 

Kyle, I hope that your commitment to real debate will lead you to rebut the ideas you believe are worth silencing. 

May the best arguments win.

Maaike Rosendal, Campus Outreach Director at the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform

 

 

On Fall Reading Week

Students from across faculties agree that the greatest cost to a Fall Reading Week is the orientation experience. I stand with my peers that have been involved as leaders or organizers, and completely agree that a smooth transition to Queen’s is tied to a robust student-run orientation.

However, I am writing this letter to address the elephant in the room: the implications of this break on student mental health. Most supporters of the current Fall Reading Week proposal have cited student mental health and stress as issues that can be addressed through a weeklong break. 

There is still no evidence that a weeklong break does anything to improve student wellness. Dr. Mike Condra, former director of Health Counselling & Disability Services,  has  been on the record questioning the usefulness of a Fall Reading Week in improving student mental health outcomes or reducing stress.

So where is this push for a week coming from? The only recommendation regarding a Fall Reading Week from the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health was that they should consider  accommodating such a week at Queen’s. There are, however, two strong recommendations from the report which demand action, which are not being addressed.

First, the Commission recommended that courses should avoid large amounts of content in the first few weeks, and avoid overwhelming students with content and assignments too close to exams. More uniform assessment distribution allows students to progress through a course at a manageable pace.

The second recommendation was that exams be spaced out. Compressed exams can cause high stress levels, particularly for first-year students.

These two recommendations can create positive outcomes for students today, and the University should put them into practice. At a decentralized university like ours, reforms such as these are hard to implement across faculties, but difficulty should be no excuse to ignore the real solutions. 

If the desired outcome is positive student mental health, then the two action items here should be the ones going to Senate, not a proposal that compromises the transition to Queen’s. Sure, implementing a Fall Reading Week is easier, but is it the right thing to do?

Ana Lopez, ComSoc President

 

RE: BDS has no place in student government

Editors, 

I’m writing as a student journalist at McGill to highlight the fearmongering and unethical journalistic practices behind the editorial published on March 11 about the passing of a BDS motion at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA). 

First, it is painfully clear that no attempt was made by the editor to research the opinions of the motion’s supporters, numbering over 2,000 at McGill. While calling for “‘neutrality”,’ this editorial ignores the marginalization of Palestinian students at McGill, echoing the erasure of Palestinian students in the so-called news article from the Gazette, which Streisfeld quotes. In fact, the word Palestinian is mentioned once in the entire editorial. Editorials are for expressing opinions, but it is lazy journalism to ignore a crucial side to the story before forming your opinion. 

Streisfield states that “there’s no place for intolerance … in student government, where neutrality should be upheld.” In fact, SSMU’s constitution clearly states its commitment to “demonstrating leadership in matters of human rights, social justice and environmental protection.” In other words, SSMU is explicitly not neutral. Either the editorial is misleadingly implying that SSMU is contradicting some imaginary universal mandate that commands all student governments to be apolitical, or this is bad fact checking. 

The editorial further mischaracterizes BDS as intolerant toward individuals, claiming it would marginalize students, but does not mention that the BDS motion at McGill, like the broader BDS movement, targeted institutions, not individuals. 

The editorial concludes on the ominous note that motions that are “intolerant and divisive” in nature “shouldn’t be brought to the table in the first place.” This kind of argument relies on the word “intolerant” to provoke a kneejerk reaction, frightening readers enough to keep them from thinking critically about what BDS is actually intolerant of. Indeed, some things should not be tolerated; for example, SSMU should not tolerate acts of anti-Semitism. Similarly, as the BDS motion suggested, students and SSMU should not tolerate hate, racism, and settler-colonialism, all of which are inherent to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and to the corporations who profit from it. 

Niyousha Bastani

 

On Israeli Apartheid Week

The “counter narrative” provided by members of Israel on Campus at a demonstration put on by Israeli Apartheid Week — that the Israeli separation barrier is needed to prevent “many suicide 

bombings” — presents two equally repulsive optics. 

First, that Queen’s Israel on Campus will defend Israel, Zionism and the policies of Netanyahu without exception — which I know to not be true. This is not AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) nor should we pretend it is.

Second, it exoticizes Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims as barbaric terrorists. To hint at such Islamophobia not hours after the attacks in Brussels is opportunistic in the most disgusting fashion. 

This is not to say that blame does not lie on the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week 

either — kudos for provoking a dialogue, but such a gaudy dramatization is unproductive. After all, how many IDF soldier have man buns, and to ask “where is your school?” while on Queen’s campus is 

somewhat laughable. 

Both sides could stand to grow up and meet in the middle. Why not host a panel discussion instead? Discuss solutions to the problem, or at the least, possible 

trust-building exercises? After everything that happened at McGill how refreshing would it be to hear both groups jointly condemn both illegal settlements and Hamas in an academic setting? 

If Israel on Campus insists on maintaining their “counter narrative,” at the very least they ought to question what motivates a would-be suicide bomber in the first place — and how can those structural ailments be repaired. 

Stephanie Trapper, ArtSci '14

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