Upcoming Jordan Peterson event stirs backlash on campus

Several professors have signed an open letter criticizing the event, while student groups have organized various protests

Journal File Photo

On March 5, controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson will be delivering a lecture in Grant Hall. Although Peterson’s appearance is just under a week away, the upcoming event has already ignited significant backlash on campus, with students and professors alike vocalizing both opposition towards and support for the presentation. 

Peterson has become a contentious figure in Canada because of his oppositional stance towards Bill C-16. In response to this 2016 amendment that added protections of gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code, Peterson released multiple videos on YouTube that critique political correctness and Bill C-16. He's also vocalized his refusal to use gender neutral or preferred pronouns on the grounds of freedom of speech and has denounced humanities subjects such as gender studies, racial studies and English literature, declaring them “corrupted.”

Since the announcement of the event, entitled “The Rising Tide of Compelled Speech in Canada,” Queen’s has seen strong reactions from students and faculty.

Through Facebook, several students have organized protests for the March 5 event at Grant Hall. An “Anti Jordan Peterson Protest” in opposition to Peterson was created on Facebook shortly after the lecture was made public. The event page invites students to “stand in solidarity with racialized, trans and other minority groups and protest” and describes Peterson’s beliefs as “anti-scientific, transphobic drivel.”

An additional “Anti Anti Jordan Peterson Event” was created in response to the first protest event, which alternatively invites the Queen’s community to “stand in solidarity with those who believe in critical and public discourse.” Event organizers wrote while Peterson’s beliefs are “not without issue, it is still critical to allow him to express these views.”

In a Feb. 20 blog post, Principal Woolf wrote “[e]xpressing one’s affront to an idea or position is completely acceptable in an academic environment ... blanket calls for censorship, however, are intellectually lazy and are anathema to scholarly pursuits.”

“What is at issue is nothing less than our commitment to academic freedom,” Woolf continued.

On social media, Woolf’s blog post has garnered some criticism. In a tweet that tagged the Queen’s Principal on his personal twitter, a user expressed that providing Peterson with a platform compromises the University’s integrity.

Woolf disagreed, replying to the user, “If calling for a lecture to be cancelled simply because the speaker is objectionable isn’t equivalent to censorship then you and I have differing definitions of the term.”

A number of professors on campus have taken a stance against the event, writing an “An Open Letter to Principal Woolf” in response to his statement.

The open letter, signed by professors from several departments, including gender studies, film and media, English and politics, expressed “dismay” with Woolf’s statement.

According to these professors’ statement, they believe Woolf “mischaracterized” the nature of the problem.

“You fail to acknowledge the members of the Queen’s community who are directly targeted by the anti-trans, racist, colonialist, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic bigotry and violence that the speaker and his followers promote,” the open letter reads. 

“The problem created by this lecture is not ‘free speech.’ The problem is that Queen’s is providing a platform to someone who already has extensive access to a range of venues for circulating his odious and ill-informed views,” the letter continued.

As of Feb. 26, the open letter has received 113 signatures from various students, faculty and alumni.

Woolf was unable to comment on the open letter itself, stating in an email to The Journal that “I am aware of the open letter, however have not yet officially received it. Until I do, it’s not appropriate for me to comment on the letter’s contents.”

The event also features Bruce Pardy, a Queen’s law professor who has faced criticism for a piece he published in the National Post that opposed accommodations for those with mental health struggles.

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