Dean Manfredi’s Open Forum marked by low turnout

Discussions on safe space and flawed consultation processes marked the sparsely attended first meeting of Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi’s Open Forum on March 1. With just over 30 people in the audience, this first of four open meetings focused discussion on the four main issues raised by the Jutras Report on the events of Nov. 10 with regards to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Following Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s response to the Jutras Report on Feb. 13, a nine-person advisory group was created to assist Dean Manfredi in hosting the Open Forum and producing a written report on the views articulated therein, the process of which is to be finished by June 8 and formally presented to Munroe-Blum by October.

“I think that all of us have a responsibility to ensure that the quality of the discussion is as high as possible and that really depends on the participants themselves. [It] depends on their being here and depends on their making intelligent contributions respectfully on various subjects,” Manfredi said in his opening remarks.

The issue of what peaceful assembly entailed, as well as what should be designated as private versus public space on campus dominated the discussion.

“I do think that there are ethics of peaceful demonstration and perhaps students should actually come to have a discussion about that,” Catherine Lu, a political science professor, said.

 “When [you] occupy the building … you are the same people asking for respect and recognition of the things you do, and you’re disrespecting the people who you want to hear you,” Dave D’Oyen, U2 arts, said of the actions of student occupiers and on the issue of deliberately concealing one’s identity.

“If you’re brave enough to stand up for something then you should be brave enough to accept the consequences that are going to follow,” he added.

The idea of instituting a specific space for peaceful assembly was met with apprehension.

“Part of the action inherently is to disrupt something,” Josh Redel, President of the Engineering Undergraduate Society and member of the Open Forum advisory committee, said. “So if you have a designated corridor that’s far away from classrooms and administration buildings and therefore it doesn’t disrupt anything, what’s the point then? They’re never going to use it.”

Discussion then turned to the validity of people’s feelings towards the events and atmosphere on campus and the relation that had to private space.

“One thing I would like to ask is why people are afraid of students,” Lu said.

Caroline Baril, who works in th principal’s office, referenced her experience witnessing the events of Nov. 10.

“The reason there was fear was that the people that came in never identified themselves as students. They covered their faces so we didn’t actually know [who they were],” Baril said.

“I guess I find the excessive reliance on the language of fear … [as] conflate[ing] the dangers of having an armed intruder with the problems of civic protest, which is that it’s inconvenient and messy and yes it’s not what we would like to happen in our offices but you know, this is part of being a public institution,” Lu said.

“The people who work in my office are members of this community and they currently don’t feel that they have a safe space to work in … It is not legitimate to discount their feelings,” Morton Mendelson Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) said in response. “I don’t think that we should assume that people who work in the Deputy Provost’s office should assume that they can have their space invaded.”

Mendelson added that, while the notion of a private space in an office is not the same as that equated with one’s bedroom, people have a self-defined personal space which they consider to be private.

“People’s feelings, while legitimate, are not a basis of sound reasoning,” Lu said in disagreement with Mendelson’s comments. “We start using the language of privacy and rights and basically say that those in positions of authority really don’t have to listen to people who are lower than [them].”

“I personally think that we need to have a lot more discussions about feelings and emotions and about how people feel about issues on campus,” SSMU president Maggie Knight said. “So how do we as a community go ‘yeah, it’s okay for you to feel like this, we might not agree with you … but we acknowledge the validity of that and we recognize that you’re likely to act based on those feelings’?”

Of those students who attended the Open Forum to raise complaints, the main concern was the ineffective nature of such consultative processes.

“To really create peace on this campus, I find forums like this to be pointless,” D’Oyen said. “A forum like this doesn’t reach out to the silent majority. They’re never going to come.”

“I really can’t believe it’s going to be so hard for you to take a day or an hour out of your schedule to stop at a popular place on campus … and say ‘What’s wrong, what can I do, how can I serve you better?'” D’Oyen said in response to Manfredi asking what else the university should be doing.

Remarking on the absence of students at the Forum, as well as the high degree of formality felt in the room, a student who could only be identified as Courtney said she didn’t feel comfortable speaking there.

“The format of this consultation seems so flawed to me,” she said. “I feel like by speaking and just being here right now, I’m almost validating this type of consultation to students and I don’t feel comfortable validating it.”

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