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McGill holds forum to discuss inclusivity and respectful debate on campus

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On Jan. 24, the Principal’s Task Force on Respect and Inclusion in Campus Life held an open forum for students, faculty, and staff to voice their opinions and suggestions regarding campus inclusivity. The task force, which was announced in an email on Oct. 25 2017, is mandated to hold consultations with the McGill community and deliver a final report to the McGill Senate with recommendations about how to promote academic freedom and inclusiveness on campus.

The open forum was streamed online, and viewers were invited to provide their input to the task force’s administrators via email. It was divided into three main rounds of discussion: Defining campus inclusion, brainstorming methods of improving inclusion, and suggesting tangible plans for the administration.

 

Faculty and students’ attempt to define inclusion and respect

John Poliquin, staffing manager at McGill Human Resources, moderated the first discussion about the inclusivity of McGill’s environment. Laila Parsons, associate professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, opened debate by criticizing the administration’s response to the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“The BDS is a normal method of activism, [and] the University’s condemnation of the BDS exacerbated the tensions,” Parsons said.

Morley Kert, U2 Engineering, attended the first debate, and agreed that the discussion surrounding BDS on campus could be more inclusive.

“On one hand, I agree with the fact that McGill shouldn’t be condemning activism, but on the other hand, McGill should promote open forums like this so people who have different opinions can debate their ideas,” Kert said.

 

Suggestions for actionable plans to make campus more inclusive

Fatima Anjum, a Faculty of Law student, moderated the second discussion.

Kert shared their belief that McGill should continue to host one-on-one debates and open discussion events similar to the task force forum.

“Open debates and confrontations with people who have different views make us stronger and better prepared for the real world,” Kert said. “We are still young and developing, there is no need to take firm stances on our beliefs in this stage of our lives.”

The discussion shifted its focus toward the limits of free speech. Some audience members defended their right to speak freely, and criticized initiatives like Rez Projects—mandatory training workshops on diversity and inclusion for students living in McGill residences—for imposing restrictions on free speech. Others argued that unregulated freedom of speech harms minority students.

“There is a reason why we don’t invite people like Donald Trump or Jordan Peterson [to speak at McGill],” Arno Pedram, U3 Arts, said. “The level of debate needs to be limited when dealing with extremists, and the question of free speech always has to balance with [concerns about] security.”

 

Administration collects feedback from students

Assistant Professor David Theodore of Mcgill’s School of Architecture moderated the third discussion, during which students could directly communicate with faculty. Many participants requested for professors to provide their course syllabi before semesters begin to simplify the add/drop period.

The forum concluded with closing remarks by Nandini Ramanujam, executive director at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.

“Many of you would like to have more of an enabling environment for inclusive, respective dialogue [and] conversations, looking in the eye, one-on-one conversations,” Ramanujam said. “We are all McGill, so we all have a responsibility to make McGill a better place. [But] of course the administration will take your comments and suggestions very seriously.”

The task force will continue to receive email suggestions on how to improve campus inclusivity until March 30.

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