Many people are talking about the tweets posted by McGill University student Haaris Khan earlier this month, with the exception, ironically, of those whose statement is most imperative.
McGill University has not commented on the tweets Khan posted while watching a screening of Indoctrinate U on campus. “I want to shoot everyone in this room,” he tweeted during the event, which was hosted by Conservative McGill and Libertarian McGill. “I should have brought an M16,” he later added.
McGill’s Deputy Provost released a statement only after the McGill Tribune and other news outlets picked up the story. The statement, however, merely justified McGill’s handling of the incident and fell short of actually condemning the spread of potentially violent messages on campus. Bizarrely, the Deputy Provost ended the statement with a paragraph outlining the “downside of social media.”
Khan has since apologized for his tweets in a letter published in the Tribune. “My comments were totally inappropriate and I would never harm my fellow students,” he wrote, adding that his tweets “were meant in jest.” Maybe I just have a lousy sense of humour, but I think there’s a reason clown costumes don’t come with mock M16’s.
What isn’t funny, though, is the formal silence from the McGill administration. Citing Quebec’s privacy laws, McGill refuses to discuss what action, if any, will be taken against Khan. But McGill needs to reassure its students, faculty, and staff that threats of violence—even if “meant in jest”—will not be tolerated on campus. While a commitment to privacy is fine, McGill must also fulfill its obligation to provide a safe space on campus. (And for all the vacuous talk we so often hear about “safe spaces,” here is a situation where it actually seems warranted.) That means assuring everyone on campus (however generally) that threats of violence are completely unacceptable. McGill shouldn’t let its silence do the talking.