Queens diversity program mischaracterized: administration - Macleans.ca

Queens diversity program mischaracterized: administration

Facilitators will look for “spontaneous teaching moments” concerning race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability and social class


A pilot program at Queen’s University promoted as a tool to help students embrace diversity is being defended by administration and a student leader who say it’s not an attempt to quash freedom of speech.

As part of its ongoing efforts to increase inclusivity, the university in Kingston, Ont., trained and installed six student facilitators to work with first-year students living in campus residences starting in September.

They were tasked with spotting “spontaneous teaching moments” concerning issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability and social class, and to respond – either actively by posing questions to spur discussion, or more passively through activities like poster campaigns or movies.

Such moments may very well occur in cafeterias or common rooms, and it’s possible the facilitators might then step in, said vice-principal academic Patrick Deane.

“It’s been suggested … these people are expected to act as thought and speech police. It’s exactly the opposite,” he said.

“What they’re there to do is encourage students not to censor each other, not to silence each other in different ways, but to have a respectful conversation and dialogue.”

The distinction between public and private space becomes foggy within student living spaces, he acknowledged.

“In the residence setting, it’s perfectly possible that students who are behaving in a manner that’s disrespectful would have it pointed out to them,” he said.

“(But) to suggest that they are in some way empowered to monitor the way students speak and call students into account for things they might have said absolutely is out of the purview.”

Talia Radcliffe, president of the Alma Mater Society students union, said she feels the program has been “mischaracterized.”

“(The program) has no coercive measures, no punitive aspects whatsoever,” she said.

“(It’s) kind of like a platform from which to jump, rather than a wrist-slapping for bad language.”

Over the past several years, Queen’s University has been forced into the spotlight on occasion for incidents of racism on campus, including an attack on a faculty member and derogatory vandalism in buildings and on student property.

“We see it as an issue on our campus, and we see it as an obligation of our university to address it on as many fronts as we can,” Deane said, though he added that such incidents aren’t the sole reason for the program’s creation.

Among scholars and human rights advisers, the initiative – which Queen’s calls unique within the Canadian university system – is receiving cautious praise.

“This sounds like one more innovative tool (at Queen’s), and I think if it’s done well in terms of the right people with the right training, that it may well be effective,” said Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“In order for it to work, students are going to have to feel comfortable with it, and that will mean having people who are able to engage them and listen to them.”

Greg Clarke, executive director at the University of Alberta’s Centre for Constitutional Studies, said while he’s in favour of such a program in theory, he’s somewhat skeptical about whether it will work.

“There are concerns about at what point does drawing attention to your behaviour begin to slide into trying to force someone to behave differently,” he said.

“It goes back to the possibility of contradicting the very point of the university, which is to protect people’s abilities to responsibly pursue whatever viewpoint they hold and test them against other people’s views.”

Students at the Queen’s Journal, the independent student newspaper, called the approach “lacklustre” and warned in a editorial that facilitators might risk hostility or stifling meaningful discussion if their peers feel cornered.

– The Canadian Press

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Queens diversity program mischaracterized: administration

  1. Yes the program has been mischaracterized and made fun of, but even if you look at the facts, it is still VERY WRONG. If students were living and eating off campus, they would not have to be cautious of every word that they speak. I feel that the residence environment is already quite hostile actually, because of all of the stringent rules. Residence is supposed to be a home away from home, NOT a home away from class. It is supposed to be a comfortable place to live. Would you go to someone’s kitchen and make comments about their language? People in residence don’t have the option of eating off campus! Leave them alone.

  2. Personally, I would consider these new efforts to, in fact, make residence a MORE comfortable place to live for many people. Those who find this language offensive are often too intimidated to approach others with their concerns. The fact is that students DO have the choice of eating out; they are not brought to the cafeteria in chains. However, for all those students who do eat in the cafeteria, representing the vast majority, they should be allowed to eat in a comfortable, respectful, and accepting environment. The program has definitely been mischaracterized and is definitely not VERY WRONG. They are not policing the language used in residences, but are simply attempting to be the catalyst for dialogue in regards to insulting and harmful language. This, I believe, is not a crime.

  3. Even professors are (anonymously) making fun of this:


    I acknowledge the good intentions of this initiative. And it’s certainly aimed to address a real problem that is, from everything I’ve heard, a particular issue at Queen’s. All the same, I can’t believe this is going to help. On the contrary, it’ll probably turn the whole issue into a great big joke for most students.

    I hate to say it, but it’s like having someone’s mom show up to school to lecture a class on how bullying has affected her son. No one likes bullying. No one condones it. Everyone would like to end it. But that doesn’t make any program with that goal an automatic good idea. Common sense dictates having someone’s mom address the class is going to be counter-productive. And I suspect the same is true here.

    I hope it works. I just don’t think it will.

  4. RE: Tim

    They are forced to buy a meal plan if they are first year students and living in residence. No they are not forced to eat the food, but they are forced to pay for it…

    University students are not babies. They are out in the world, if not then, within 4 years. They can learn what is offensive and unoffensive by themselves. They don’t need anyone to tell them what is ok and not ok to say. (Other than their friends.) There is a lot of pressure on Queen’s campus already to be politically correct. Just last week the president of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society was harshly criticized for something he posted on his friend’s facebook wall.

    This idea assumes that Queen’s students can’t think on their own. It is a terrible idea.

  5. RE: Susan

    Firstly, students on West Campus are able to opt out of a meal plan, and any student who wishes to fend for themselves is able to apply specifically for a room at West, but that’s besides the point.

    The point is that racist, sexist, and other prejudiced peoples often do not associate with those people they discriminate against. They tend to befriend people who will laugh at their crude humour and support their ridiculous views. Accordingly, the judgmental people in question will not receive any criticism from their friends, but (if they are overheard) from other people around them, whose views they will reject anyways.

    Also, you contradicted yourself by mentioning our ASUS President. He made a foolish comment on the internet, and unfortunately HIS FRIENDS WEREN’T ABLE TO TELL HIM THAT WHAT HE SAID WAS “NOT OK” before things were already out of hand. In the real world, your friends can’t act as a filter between your brain and your mouth (or in this case, keyboard).

    Saying that Queen’s students are being denied freedom of speech is ridiculous, we can definitely think on our own. These facilitators’ jurisdiction is not in the realm of thought, but in the area of PUBLIC, abusive, and offensive language. Queen’s is simply attempting to make the Campus a more respective and informed environment that ensures safety and equality for all students, regardless of whether or not they fit the North American stereotypical “norm”.

  6. Re: Scott

    “Saying that Queen’s students are being denied freedom of speech is ridiculous, we can definitely think on our own. These facilitators’ jurisdiction is not in the realm of thought, but in the area of PUBLIC, abusive, and offensive language.”

    So your idea of freedom of speech is limited solely to PRIVATE conversation?

  7. Re: Travis/Susan

    Correct me if I am wrong, but ones rights and freedoms may only be taken away or limited when they infringe on others rights and freedoms. Why is it the case that in television programs, radio shows, and a plethora of other media forms it is illegal to say many of the things which this initiative is trying to prevent…have they brought ‘Freedom of Speech’ against the government in court? How can you say that it’s taking away your freedom of speech, it’s taking away your freedom to publicly insult others religion, sexual orientation, culture, and gender (etc.) which the last time I checked is not in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the Freedom of Conscience and Religion IS in the Charter.

    The simply fact that so many students are so vehemently against this initiative is a good indication that the culture of prejudice for which Queen’s is known is present! The only people who should be worried about this are those who, in public, say insulting, derogatory, or discriminatory things within the hearing range of others…THIS ACTION IS WRONG AND THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH SOMEONE TELLING THEM SO! As for university students not being babies, the recent vandalism, ASUS President’s actions, reaction to this initiative, and thefts give no indication for me to think otherwise. Scott is right, “the judgmental people in question will not receive any criticism from their friends” so it is necessary for someone to step up!

    There IS a problem; the university is trying to do something about it instead of turning a blind eye as so many other universities would. I stand by my earlier point: this should not be seen as something designed to make some people uncomfortable, but rather to make the lives of others, those who are affected by such insulting comments, more comfortable! The vast majority of the time people do not even realize that what they said was insulting, this is a way for education to transcend the classroom; it is preparing us for life in a country that is ACCEPTING. If our university cannot be as accepting as our country, then living in the ‘real world’ will be a challenge.

  8. Things included in the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms:
    Freedom of speech
    Right to Vote
    Right to legal council

    Things not included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
    Right to not be offended

    I also reject your assertion that one does not hear things on television, radio, etc that are insulting to religion, race, etc, let alone that it is ‘illegal’. I recall a famous interview with Christopher Hitchens (on CNN, I think) where he called members of any and every religious group a plethora of insulting things, including ‘naive’, ‘stupid’ and ‘deluded’. He was not censored, nor should he have been.

    As for:

    “The simply [sic] fact that so many students are so vehemently against this initiative is a good indication that the culture of prejudice for which Queen’s is known is present!”

    That is one of the grossest fallacies I have seen on this website in some time, and there tend to be no shortage of those.

  9. RE: Travis

    I do agree with your assertion that views should not and ultimately cannot be censored. However, this whole issue has – in my opinion – been greatly exaggerated.

    Immaturity and hasty reasoning have led to the now popular belief that these “dialogue facilitators” will be roaming campus and handing out tickets for prejudiced speech. These men and women, in their association with the University, are actually only using their freedom of speech in an attempt to create awareness and change.

    This program does, in fact, respect the fundamental freedoms listed in the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms:

    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
    a) freedom of conscience and religion;
    – the program promotes diversity and acceptance of different religions, and also helps develop students, who are prejudiced, into respective and morally educated adults.

    b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    – no penal action will take place, and no one will be kept from talking or expressing themselves.

    c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    – program does not create a hostile environment, but instead promotes a peaceful assembly of open-minded adults.

    Once again, I believe the uproar is simply a direct result of a power-trip by students who are ignorant of views that are not similar of their own.

  10. When speaking with friends, it should be reasonable to assume a certain degree of privacy. Who speaks so quietly, that a third person, particular a third person straining to hear what others are saying, cannot hear? If a student is writig racist grafitti or SCREMING slurs in a common room then that should be dealt with, and not by facilitators but by campus security or the police as the case may be.

    Tim wrote: “The only people who should be worried about this are those who, in public, say insulting, derogatory, or discriminatory things within the hearing range of others”

    I assume this means Tim doesn’t mind people listening to his conversations, just to make sure he doesn’t say anything derogatory.

    The suggestion that only people who say derogatory things are affected is a fallacy. Everyone is affected because the privacy of everyone is compromised. It doesn’t matter if you are not likely to say something derogatory to a friend, the possibility that your conversation is being listened to remains. And that is something that should concern all students.

  11. I think that the vast majority of students, as well as many who have posted comments on this site, have a severe lack of understanding when it comes to this initiative. Whatever put into people’s minds the idea that behind every corner one of the residence co-ordinators (of the few there are) will be lurking, waiting for unsuspecting students to espouse racist, derogatory, and insulting ideas? They cannot read thoughts, and they cannot STOP SOMEONE FROM SPEAKING! I am very sorry that the topic of Freedom of Speech was ever brought up…you are still free to say what you want. I would be very interested as to what a constitutional scholar would have to say about whether or not Queen’s University is violating the fundamental rights and freedoms of its students. I couldn’t help but notice another point in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that was conspicuously absent: The right not to be informed by others when your comments are insulting…the Freedom of Speech goes both ways!

    As for CNN, I do believe it is an American Station. Regardless, it cannot be denied that the content in television programs, in Canada at least, has restrictions (between certain hours, etc). Scott puts it nicely, “the uproar is simply a direct result of a power-trip by students who are ignorant of views that are not similar of their own.”

    As for:

    “Who speaks so quietly, that a third person, particular a third person straining to hear what others are saying, cannot hear?”
    Again, ‘straining to hear’…these are not people bent upon seeking out each and every single derogatory comment made on campus…this isn’t Big Brother! And to be honest Carson, I don’t mind other people listening to my private conversations, what I DO mind, however, is when others make racist, derogatory comments in my presence.

  12. Tim wrote: “Whatever put into people’s minds the idea that behind every corner one of the residence co-ordinators (of the few there are) will be lurking, waiting for unsuspecting students to espouse racist, derogatory, and insulting ideas?”

    Obviously they won`t be everywhere as there is only 6 of them, but the notion that what they are doing is lurking around and waiting for `teachable moments` comes from their very own words.

    One of the facilitators as quoted in the National Post:

    Link: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=970266

    “We are trained to interrupt behaviour in a non-blameful and non-judgmental manner, so it’s not like we’re pulling someone aside and reprimanding them about their behaviour. It is honestly trying to get to the root of what they’re trying to say – seeing if that can be said in a different manner.”

    No doubt this is put in concilatory language but that doesn`t change the fact that what these facilitators are doing is looking and waiting to find conversations or behaviour to “interrupt.“

    I do agree that to suggest that this program is Big Brother would be a stretch (a relevant comparison but a stretch).

    But, given that Tim doesn`t “mind other people listening“ to his “private conversations“ it seems he would be quite comfortable if Big Brother type surveillance was in fact implemented.

    Tim is, however, correct to suggest that Queen`s is not violating the Charter with this program, as the charter only applies to federal laws. If the government hired people to lurk around listening to conversations without typical requirements like warrants to ensure our rights are protected, then that might be a charter issue. But it wouldn`t be a free speech issue, it would be a privacy issue.

    This program at Queen`s I think also raises privacy issues before it does any issue of free expression. And just because there is likely no legitimate charter issue here, that doesn`t mean it is appropriate for the university to conduct this program.

  13. I am going to make a few very small points:

    Trying to stamp out ‘inappropriate language’ is a futile game of Linguistic Whack-a-mole. Language that you try to eradicate or blacklist as taboo will simply pop up in another form, as another incarnation as ‘that’s so retarded/gay.’ You cannot change behaviour by changing language. Words in and of themselves do not create thought –> Socially-bent linguists and social engineering types have tried and failed to prove that it does; they are tragically mistaken. Misbehaviour in human beings is a genetic trait; I would even call it an evolutionary adaptation. Self-interest, intergroup violence, and treachery evolved in the animal kingdom long before language did. I think Queen’s is trying to solve the wrong problem. Queen’s cannot hide behind the claim that ‘you aren’t listening! no one knows what the intergroup dialogue program really does’ — that is infantile and naive. Queen’s is responsible for managing the public perception of its actions. Perceived repression of expression causes resentment and further incites misbehaviour — as the fierce reaction to Globe and Mail and National Post stories proves.

    -Pat Tanzola, Queen’s alum ’00 and ’02, and Queen’s Journal Editor 2001-2002

  14. guys, you’re missing a wonderful opportunity here to call representatives of the administration gay

  15. not gay as in gay, gay as in stupid

  16. There is one point that people seem to be missing. How can 6 people on a campus of thousands of students make one particle of difference in race relations? How do you measure whether this program is successful or not? If racial incidents do die down how do you know that it is because of this program?

    With the puny number of people assigned to this task, this program has been set up to fail. One of two things will happen when it does fail: either the University wil say, “See, we tried. We did our best. There’s nothing more we can do,” or , “This soft approach isn’t working. We need to take more active measures.” My guess is, that’s what’s going to happen, and then you really will have thought police.

  17. I have tried to draft several responses to this issue, but I fail to find the words that say how sad I am at what Queen’s is becoming. Embarrassed, perhaps is a better word. Not embarrassed of the students, or the alumni, or the history, but of an administration that would sanction such a program.
    This is the kind of idea that might surface in a 10th grade classroom, then quickly get dismissed because of its impracticality and then forgotten about.

  18. Whether this program is simply stupid or whether it’s actually an invasion into the rights of Queen’s students comes down to a very simple question that I haven’t yet seen answered. Two students are speaking in the hall. One says something to the other that is potentially offensive. A facilitator shows up to turn this into a “spontaneous teaching opportunity.” Both students turn around to this facilitator and tell him to get stuffed. What happens then?

    If the facilitator goes away (hopefully with the intention to inform his administration that students are not receptive to the program) then it’s merely stupid. Again, well intentioned and aimed at a real problem, but still stupid. There’s nothing wrong with someone approaching another person and offering an opinion. Tim is correct on that point.

    If, however, the facilitator doesn’t leave, then we have a serious problem. This doesn’t need to be couched in Constitutional terms. People who doing that are just confusing the issue. The only times you can be forced into a conversation with someone is when that person is exerting some real authority over you. If they aren’t, then you have every right to walk away or, if you were approached, to expect them to leave. Anything else is flat out harassment.

    So, does the university intend to exert its authority over students in order to compel them to engage with these facilitators? If the answer is yes, then we do have a real problem here. I’m not sure it’s a Constitutional problem. The university is still private property and it’s entirely possible that the university is within its rights. But its heading down a very slippery slope with this program if the conversation doesn’t end with “get stuffed.” At that point, these “facilitators” really are the “conversation police.” No one else I know can compel me to listen to their views – whether reasonable or otherwise. The university should think very carefully before it exerts its authority in this manner, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that would be subject to challenge in some form.

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