When a professor won't stop for Remembrance Day - Macleans.ca
 

When a professor won’t stop for Remembrance Day

McMaster students stood up for 11 a.m. moment of silence


 

Fred Chartrand/CP

One of the tensest moments of my first year at McMaster University didn’t happen when I was writing exams or fighting with my roommate or handing in a late assignment. It happened on Nov. 11, 2009 when I was sitting in the musty basement lecture hall of an old arts building on campus.

The English professor started lecturing at 10:30 a.m. When 11 a.m. rolled around, the time traditionally reserved as a minute of silence in respect for those affected by war—through combat or collateral—a student raised her hand.

“Shouldn’t we stop lecture for a minute right now?” she said, and outlined her case: that would be the most respectful thing to do.

A long, awkward silence fell over the large hall. Then, the professor said no. I don’t remember her reason, exactly. It was a convoluted argument about respecting her lecture in the academic space and not interrupting it by glorifying war. She was very against recognizing the moment.

But then the student argued back and more students jumped in, until finally, several minutes past the 11 a.m. mark, the room lapsed into 60 seconds of awkward silence.

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While that particular minute was spent more in embarrassed quiet for the uncomfortable circumstances than in thoughtful contemplation, it has come back to me every November since, as I dwell on war and peace, Remembrance Day, poppies, and everything this time represents.

The squabbles of that morning seem petty in comparison to what it was like to be on campus in the war-torn days of yesteryear. There was a time on McMaster’s campus when the impact of war was not a once-a-November focus, but rather a daily occurrence. Old Silhouette newspaper headlines from World War Two call for blood donors during a European shortage. In desperation, they appealed to women to donate, as men were traditionally the exclusive donor group.

One front-page article from Nov. 3, 1944 warned that the military status of all male students would thereafter be checked and “every student must have on his person at all times either a postponement, a discharge, or a rejection paper.” If any men were “unable to produce these necessary qualifications, their names will be turned in to N.M.R.A. immediately. Within a few days they will receive their military call-up.” (The N.M.R.A. was the National Resources Mobilization Act, which recorded and policed conscripted Canadians for military service at home and abroad.)

The paper from that time period is also peppered with lists of fallen alumni and students. It serves as a sombre reminder for all we take for granted today as students.

For the first time in several years, I’ll be in a position to actually attend a Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday. But if you’re in lecture (whether or not your professor pauses), at work, at home or elsewhere, I encourage you to stop what you’re doing for a moment, not to glorify war but to be thankful for all we have today, the people we owe that to and what we want tomorrow to be.

Jemma Wolfe is executive editor of McMaster University’s Silhouette where this first appeared.


 

When a professor won’t stop for Remembrance Day

  1. I am an absolute believer in 2 minutes silence on Remembrance Day. I was at work yesterday and we were watching the time, then I had to escort a person to another floor. This was about 4 minutes to 11am.

    On the way back to my desk I had to walk through a large area where people were quietly sitting at their desk observing the silence.

    I had something on my mind and completely forgot about the 2 minute silence as I walked speedily and blithely through this large area of people sitting quietly at their desk watching me.

    It wasn’t until I reached my desk that I realised what I had done and now I feel so mortified about this that I don’t think I can return to my workplace.

    Everyone must think that I disregard Remembrance Day but this is definitely not the case.

    I realise I’m worrying about what everyone is thinking as much as berating myself for being so disrespectful, however unintentional.

    How am I going to recover from this and face my workmates?

    Will this never be forgotten the same as Jemma Wolfe has not forgotten the professor’s actions?

  2. I’m surprised the school was even open. In BC Remembrance day is a Statutory holiday and schools and government offices are closed.