OP-ED: Ontario universities are responsible for the outrageous actions of their students
OP-ED: Ontario universities are responsible for the outrageous actions of their students

Ontario universities are at a crossroads. York University, where I went, stands out in all the worst ways. The controversies at York began less than a week after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, which resulted in the killing of around 1,200 people and the kidnapping of approximately 240 others.

The York Federation of Students, Glendon College Student Union, and York University Graduate Students’ Association released a Statement of Solidarity with Palestine on Oct. 12.

The statement called the attack a “strong act of resistance” and said “resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary.” The authors portrayed it as: “‘decolonization’ and ‘land-back’ actualized as we continue to see the Palestinian people stand firm in their resistance against their oppressors.” York University came down hard on the unions, claiming they breached the regulations for student organizations. York gave the student unions several remedial action warnings on Oct. 20.

Not only did the university demand the unions retract their statements, but they also called for the resignation of student union executives and a public statement against antisemitism. The unions were also given the option to prove no breach occurred. The student unions had to respond to the university’s demands by Oct. 25.

Instead of complying, the unions called York’s actions an “attack on student autonomy.” They released a second statement, labeling York’s response as being “rooted in racism.” Several campus protests took place in support of the unions. According to the university, the unions are undergoing a process under the regulation’s non-compliance section.

To add to the university’s woes, York is now subject to a $15 million lawsuit for decades of alleged negligence in responding to antisemitic incidents on campus. In addition, three university employees were recently suspended by York for allegedly defacing an Indigo bookstore in downtown Toronto.

York represents a microcosm of a much broader issue, which contains a hidden irony.

While purporting to take the high road, universities such as York are responsible for the radical actions of its students. For years, York has been fostering ideologies such as diversity, equity, and inclusion; intersectionality; anti-racism; decolonization; etc. Most universities have integrated these ideas into the core of their institution. Today they’ve become the academic orthodoxy.

York has a comprehensive DEDI (decolonization, equity, diversity, and inclusion) strategy. The university describes itself as a “colonial institution” and its website lists the university’s objectives to implement DEDI ideas through funding, awards, grants, and committees. When an atrocity happens like the Hamas attacks, decolonization and anti-oppression theories are the immediate response. The tragedy of the occurrence and loss of life are a secondary focus. Decolonization becomes the single filter through which these events are seen. The student unions applied the decolonization ideas – indirectly fostered in the classroom and the broader university atmosphere – to the Hamas attacks, viewing the events as the colonized rising against the colonizer.

Universities bombard students with these ideas through classes, workshops, campus services, and campus clubs. Therefore, the reaction from York’s student unions is inevitable. The unions are a product of an environment that only promotes these ideologies.

York is in the unenviable position of having fostered the ideologies of the student unions and now having to backtrack. These events are not exclusive to York. Across North America, a reckoning moment is happening for academia. The consequences of these extreme ideas have become unequivocally clear. If the right steps are taken, this pivotal moment could create a more objective educational environment.

What will it take to break up the convenient alliance between these pernicious ideas and the university? I don’t have all the answers, but, for starters, universities, especially York, must grapple with this reality: any academic institution is liable for the actions of its students when both groups share similar ideological frameworks. Unless York examines its role in fostering these ideologies, its response remains futile.

Additionally, York and other universities must protect the independence of students, professors, and community members who criticize DEDI and similar ideologies.

A general hope lies in the fact that these unfortunate events at York received a fair amount of backlash. This may lead to greater public and academic awareness of these ideological practices. People must discuss the consequences of these ideas to create change.

But if nothing changes, don’t be surprised. There will be more embarrassment at university campuses for years to come.

David Clarke is a writer and recent alumnus from York University. He currently writes for Excalibur, York’s Student Newspaper.

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