From: J. Ryan 

Re: Executive editor Andrew Terefenko


The purpose of this letter is twofold: to speak in favor of the protestors that disrupted two recent speaking engagements and to voice my concerns with the Silhouette’s coverage of these events.

I will begin with the latter. In a recent radio on CFMU, executive editor of the Silhouette, Andrew Terefenko espoused a number of views that have me questioning the journalistic integrity and objectivity of the Silhouette. Similar questionability can be found in his editorial, How not to protest. In the radio interview, Terefenko voices his displeasure with the “group of bandits” that have “vandalized” Silhouette newsstands with a letter responding to the newspaper’s coverage of recent protests. Terefenko misrepresents this situation in a number of ways. First, whoever are responsible for the letters are not bandits—they stole nothing.

This is a glaring and obvious mischaracterization. Also, characterizing the taping of a piece of paper to a news rack as vandalism is a laughable stretch. What’s more concerning than these mischaracterizations is the ownership Terefenko takes over the Silhouette. He claims he is upset because the letter-tapers messed with “my racks” and “my papers”. Don’t these racks and papers belong to the Silhouette and the student body that finances them? Further troubling is the fact that Terefenko claims in the same interview that the Silhouette covered the stories objectively and that his editorial does not reflect the views of the Silhouette. How is this possible when Terefenko apparently owns the papers and the racks from which they are dispensed? He also points out in the interview that his arm is featured on the cover of the issue in question holding up the sign directing readers to the stories within. Although it is possible for Silhouette staff to write opinion pieces that aren’t reflective of the views of the publication, Terefenko has blurred these lines significantly.

The Silhouette should be a voice of the diverse student body, not a pulpit for Terefenko. Not to mention that the supposedly objective, non-editorialized pieces use hyperbolic language (“ambushed”, “invaded”) and selective interviewing that clearly favors those opposed to the protests. Although I did not attend either protest and do not claim to speak for the protestors, I can understand why they would rather not speak in The Silhouette, a publication which is clearly biased against them. Why should they have to speak on your terms and on your playing field? Besides, they have already laid out their stance in the aforementioned letter. Their lack of communication with The Silhouette is not a sign of cowardice, as implied by both Terefenko and Tyler Welch, host of CFMU’s Morningfile.

I will also use this letter to praise Ana Qarri’s much more rational, balanced, and nuanced editorial on the same topic, Freedom of speech on campus. She outlines the complexity of free speech in Canada, which is in fact limited by Section 1 of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is done in an attempt to prevent hate speech and to balance other fundamental rights with that of free speech.

Could the freedom of choice (for example, to choose abortion) and the protection of the environment (for example, from oil spills) outweigh the right to free speech in these cases? Arguably, yes. Perhaps the words and graphic images presented by pro-life groups are not simply adding “scientifical [SIC] weight to pro life ideas”, as Terefenko claims, but instead are violations of hate speech or obscenity laws. This would class the actions of the protestors in a similar category as civil disobedience or direct action, a form of protest often celebrated in the mainstream (see: Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela).

Also, access to speech is not always equal. For example, Susan Cunningham, who has donated one million dollars to McMaster, has been granted a literal pedestal from which to speak. Because of her economic clout, she is afforded opportunities to speech that average, non-oil tycoon people, including the protestors, are not. It is hard to combat Cunningham’s opinions solely through polite academic discourse when she has bought herself a platform, a microphone, and an audience. I suggest he read the open letter signed by hundreds of professors and students for further criticism of the Cunningham lecture, which can be found here.

Terefenko has previously written with a distinctly anti-feminist tone, such as in his editorial in the September 25th edition of the Silhouette entitled On hacking, privacy, and common sense. Because of this, it does not seem unreasonable that his motives for disagreeing with feminist protestors go beyond “protection of free speech”. Even the title of his editorial, How not to protest, reeks of mansplaining: a white man in a tie telling women what they can and can’t do.

I couldn’t help but notice a puzzling flaw in Terefenko’s editorial, in which he states, “While the speaker was from the oil industry, she wasn’t there to tell students how to ruin the environment. She was there to inspire women to pursue leadership positions in business, which is not an idea that should be protested”. Although she was not actively instructing students to destroy the environment, this does not change the fact that she makes her (exorbitant) living from environmental degradation on a massive scale, which is something that most definitely should be protested. A bad person is a bad person regardless of what they are speaking about on a particular occasion. Speaking on an unrelated subject should not preclude an individual from criticism of other injustices they have perpetrated. For example, if Jian Ghomeshi came to give a lecture on journalism, no one would question the presence of protestors, except perhaps for Terefenko.

As Terefenko so eloquently states in the CFMU interview, the Silhouette is not anti-protest, but rather “anti-being-a-dick”. Does banging a drum during a lecture outweigh destroying the planet, profiting from the suffering of the marginalized, and limiting the choice of women in terms of “being a dick”? This is the absurd claim being made by Terefenko.

From: J. Parsons

Re: An Outdated Aesthetic

Two weeks ago, Silhouette Features Editor Christina Vietinghoff wrote a rather offensive and poorly timed article (with Remembrance Day just days ago) on the need for McMaster to move on from an “outdated aesthetic”. Her argument was essentially that in holding onto to adornments from its past, McMaster is “alienating [s]ome students”. To Vietinghoff this “white space”, as she pejoratively labels, is just not good enough and must evolve to reflect her subjective views of what constitutes equity or diversity.

Since when does rewriting our past or replacing institutional figures serve to propel us forward? McMaster University has a storied history and one that is worth celebrating and remembering. Simply because you do not like that its founders were largely male, or Caucasian, or Christian, does not mean that you have the last-word to erase them from its halls. Their gender, race, or belief system (however “homogenous” or nauseating you feel they are) cannot be used as justification for disposal and replacement.

We would not be studying at McMaster University had these numerous individuals not made concerted efforts to found and support it. My view is that if you choose to attend an institution with deep historical roots, then you ought to learn its history and respect its history. Those that paved the way for you to study here should not be disparaged under the veil of affirmative action.

In my personal view, the aesthetic appeal of McMaster’s historic architecture was actually one of the reasons I first found this university so charming. The Neo-Gothic design of University Hall and the stone-carved mouldings of Hamilton Hall are just some of the many beautiful legacies of this past which add to the character and quality of the university today. These buildings and their portraits tell the stories of this place, stories which point to those large questions we all have, such as ‘who are we and how did we get to be here?’

From: D. Prychitka

Re: Free speech

It seems that Andrew Terefenko reckons himself an expert on “how not to protest” (Editorial Nov. 13). If his first paragraph weren’t a dead give-away (bullhorns and drums have been a staple of social justice movements for decades!) perhaps his ensuing wreckage of an argument tipped you off to the fact that Terefenko has no functional ideas about how social justice movements ought to do their work.

While Terefenko would have you believe that only restrained messaging and collegial debate can make change in this world, every corner of history is laden with examples that prove him wrong. Radical social and environmental justice movements have never limited themselves to collegial debate and there’s a reason for that: it doesn’t work in the face of grotesque power imbalances.

The reality is that different tactics are effective and appropriate in different situations.

If someone is blasting pepper-spray in your eyes, open debate isn’t a great tactic to get them to stop. If someone is trying to wield patriarchal state apparatus to limit your bodily autonomy (ahem, McMaster Lifeline) then you’re likely to use every method available to stop them and to destabilize their efforts. If someone is coming to speak in your town who makes millions ravaging the earth and exploiting West African communities while simultaneously being trumpeted as a feminist icon (hi Susan!) then maybe organized disruption is a more fitting response than waiting politely for Q&A time (though I openly endorse both tactics).

I suspect that the disruptive tactics used last week on this campus simply made Terefenko and many other people uncomfortable. Those drums and bullhorns threatened the stability and familiarity of the dominant order, and as usual the people who are privileged by the status quo took deep offence.

And so we feign no surprise when the editor of the campus paper calls us “inconsiderate assholes”, or McMaster’s highest paid armchair-revolutionary-in-residence dubs us “pedagogical terrorists” (oh Giroux – you’ve outdone yourself!). We prefer to think of ourselves as empowered and enraged communities standing in solidarity against oppressive power structures. Rather than appealing to rights and freedoms as promised by the colonial state or “higher learning” institutions, we choose to assert our own freedoms and carve out space for radical transformations to occur.

All of your farcical claims to free speech and open academic debate will have to take a back seat to our right to protect our land, our communities, and our bodies – on these we simply cannot compromise.

From: P. Bamikole

Re: Last Bastion of Scoundrels

In February, a Harvard Crimson writer penned a column decrying academic freedom because it gave cover to ‘research promoting or justifying oppression’. Instead, she proposed ‘academic justice’. She avoided a clear definition, but I infer that it is the coercive power of a school community to set the bounds of orthodox discourse. Segments of the McMaster community seem of late to be running the same play. “Eco-activists interrupt oil executive’s speech on women’s leadership”; “Pro-choice protestors invaded McMaster Lifeline’s lecture advocating against abortion”; I can dismiss this as being misguided, like the Sil’s Executive Editor did.

But when its Opinions Editor writes about the limits of freedom of speech on campus, I see her giving cover to the protestors whose post-game analysis was titled, “Free Speech: The Last Bastion of Scoundrels”. Common to both pieces is the point that freedom of speech shouldn’t extend to people whose speech imposes on the freedom of others. First, this is unnecessary because Progressivism is winning. It is odious in 2014 to privately hold the view concerning gay marriage that President Obama publicly held in 2008. Ask ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Second, ‘imposition on the freedom of others’ will be defined on ideological grounds, which is precisely where the battle lies. Discourse police should fall back and get to debating. The protestors, like some Ivy Leaguers, are honest about their tactic. I hope for similar candour from the Silhouette as it discusses where ‘the line’ is.

From: McMaster Lifeline

Re: Freedom of speech on campus

As members of McMaster Lifeline we would like to put forward a response to the Silhouette article titled “Freedom of speech on campus” written by staff writer Ana Qarri. While we appreciate the attention that these important issues are receiving, we highly disagree with Qarri’s polemic; a piece which was truly off the mark. She makes the oppressive argument that the same level of freedom of speech enjoyed by all Canadians should not be extended to pro-life groups because she vehemently disagrees with their message. The inherent childishness and hypocrisy of this claim is, we think, glaringly obvious.

Further, throughout the article Qarri draws a host of arbitrary lines as to what should be allowed and what should not in institutional events and discussions. She hints that “philosophical discussion around personhood is fine” but pro-life positions on abortion, essentially, ought not to see the light of day. Qarri also erroneously quips that the group “attack[s] women’s rights” and issues “emotional attacks on women”. Both statements are absolutely false and have no factual basis whatsoever. McMaster Lifeline unquestionably believes in equal rights for all human beings and shares its message equally with all individuals interested in listening. The group never specifically targets women, nor does it ever shame those who have chosen abortion. Finally, in listing other groups which fall outside of Qarri lines of approval, she clumsily draws a fictitious link between pro-life groups and the anti-immigration message of “Immigration Watch Canada”.

As unreasonable as all of that is, perhaps most shocking is that Qarri never once speaks a word of disapproval to the protestors who annexed the lecture hall in the first place. This unfortunate double-standard truly shows her views of passive support, however couched they might be. It should be noted that the extremist disruptors of November 6th, those who carried out the aggressive tactics on lecture-goers, did so because they (also) disagreed with a position. It seems to us that such dangerous extremes of bullying and censorship are much more important to some than the tolerance it would take to allow a peaceful group to exist on campus.

 

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