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T.A. accuses university of censoring gendered pronoun discussion
A grad student and teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University says the administration is trying to stifle critical thinking, after she was reprimanded for showing students a video discussion on gendered pronouns involving controversial professor Jordan Peterson.
Lindsay Shepherd says she was disciplined by the university earlier this month for showing students a clip of Peterson debating gendered pronouns with a scholar in sexual diversity studies. She had argued in a disciplinary discussion, which she secretly recorded, that “all perspectives are valid” in a university setting. One of the two professors in the recording responds by telling her “that’s not necessarily true.”
“I was not taking sides. I was presenting both arguments,” she told the professors.
Shepherd says she’s now worried she’ll lose her T.A. post over the situation.
“They were telling me that you can’t debate something like this because it causes an unsafe or toxic learning environment,” Shepherd told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “I ended up being called transphobic and someone who causes harm and violence.”
Shepherd accused the university of subtly censoring her, “because it’s not like they’re banning me from the classroom, but they have now recognized me as someone who maybe thinks a little too independently for their tastes, so they have to discipline me into thinking the way they want me to think and the way they want me to transmit their message to the students.”
Shepherd says she’s speaking out about the university’s actions because she feels it’s contrary to the core principles of higher education, particularly when it comes to encouraging a free marketplace of ideas.
“I think it’s dangerous to say that a topic is off the table just because it might be a little bit controversial.”
Associate professor David Haskell, who teaches in Laurier’s humanities department, said he feels “shock and shame” over the university’s treatment of Shepherd.
“I wish that my university was more willing to stick up for Lindsay Shepherd, who has taken a bold stand for freedom of expression,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.
Haskell suggested it would be doing students a disservice to shelter them from controversial opinions, because it doesn’t prepare them for engaging with opposing views in real life. He said facing ideas that challenge your world view make you “mentally tough,” whereas sheltering yourself from those opinions leaves you “mentally fragile.”
“I’m OK with ideas that offend because it might make you think more,” he said. “A university has to explore all avenues of inquiry, and we’re not doing that.”
The university declined an interview request from CTV’s Your Morning. Instead, it referred all questions to a written statement posted by the university’s president last week, in which she announces the formation of a task force to review how the school balances academic expression with people’s rights and responsibilities.
“My goal is that we work together as a diverse community to build on the many best practices already underway here,” wrote Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor at Wilfrid Laurier.
Shepherd called MacLatchy’s response “shameful.”
“They’re just trying to completely avoid responsibility,” she said. “they’ve gotten so far from what their role should be that they now need a task force to tell them what an academic institution is for.”