Dear Gary Mason,
"Sometimes a person dressed as a Buddhist monk at a costume party is just someone dressed up as a Buddhist monk at a costume party".
That's how you ended your piece addressing the current controversy at Queen's University, and that's how I plan on starting mine. For those others who may be reading this and aren't presently aware of the situation, a group of students at Queen's University recently came under fire for attending a theme party called "Countries of the World". In your own words, this party saw "mostly white participants dressed up as Buddhist monks, Middle Eastern sheiks, Viet Cong fighters and Rastafarians".
Now, in your piece responding to this event, you make a couple of statements that I, personally, find problematic. Now to your credit, you do acknowledge that these students are behaving in ways that could be interpreted as problematic, but you find it wrong that they have been lambasted over the internet and branded as bigots. And then you go on to make a statement that this act offended "some" people, and that you will be able to find "some" people who are offended by "just about anything". Now I'm not going to say you are wrong in this statement, and I acknowledge that a great variety of people, including myself in certain situations, have tended to believe the same thing.
But specifically addressing this situation, I would like to offer my point of view, speaking as someone who is a person of colour and also attending university (thankfully, not the one this occurred at).
Firstly, yes, this party was themed "Countries of the World". Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of receiving an invite to what seems to be an incredibly swell shindig, but I have a gut feeling that the description did not tell people to come dressed up in the (badly put-together) cultural representations of other people. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple ways to fit this theme without dressing in a way that is deeply engrained in someone's culture or heritage. This is the core the problem in this situation- someone's culture/heritage/background/ethnicity is not a costume.
There is a difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation and it is important to emphasize that difference. If one has been accepted and embraced by a certain community and want to represent or showcase their culture in a positive light, then borrowing a piece of their culture whilst having the appreciation and the reasoning to back up this decision is one thing. And I for one, don't foresee anyone having a problem or being offended by this.
The problem with the situation at Queen's lies in the fact that people dressed up in blatantly stereotypical elements of what they perceived to be someone else's culture. A person's culture is not a prop. It is not a costume. It is part of their livelihood and something they should be proud of representing. Putting it in the same category as hotdog onesies and "Anything But Clothes"-themed parties doesn't show someone you have respect for their culture, and what's worse is that using cheap, stereotypical elements shows that you don't think their culture has any relevancy or legitimacy in your life.
There is also a problem with this being mostly white students as well. Many elements of these costumes, such as dreadlocks, to give you an example, are things that have been actively discriminated against by white people while at the same time being appropriated by them. There are plenty of examples of people of colour not being hired for jobs or told their hairstyles were unacceptable for school or their profession and meanwhile plenty of white celebrities wear dreadlocks and are upheld as edgy. There is a history behind these elements of people's hair (or lack of, in the case of the Buddhist monk costume, in which this was recreated using a latex swim cap) that these costumes 1) fail to respect and 2) perpetuate this double standard.
Another issue is that these are "just" costumes. They are obviously temporary, and at the end of the day, these white students can take them off and go on living their lives with the inherent privileges this affords them. But for many victims of discrimination and racial profiling that happen to look like the people these students dressed up as, cannot do that. They can't just flip and switch and appear a certain way to society that allows them to not be discriminated against. And costumizing this struggle makes a mockery out of it for people who deal with these things every single day.
I've seen people say that we should give them the benefit of the doubt, because they might not have known that they did anything wrong. To be honest, I find these statements quite troubling. Firstly because I find it hard to believe they didn't know they were doing anything wrong. As a university student myself, I cannot begin to tell you the PC culture that exists on university campuses, and the amount of PSAs that come out every Halloween detailing the fact that culture is not a costume. For these student to not have known better is an incredibly poor excuse, because these kinds of things are staring them in their face everywhere they go.
Secondly, I think if they truly realized they did something wrong, they would have come forward and apologized. Not only has this not happened (to the best of my knowledge), but I've seen this conversation splinter off in two completely unprecedented directions. I've seen my friends who attend Queen's apologize for the behaviour of peers that they do not interact with, and I've seen people who went to this party who have brushed it off and even proudly proclaimed that it was "lit". These people are adults who, as far as I'm aware, haven't shown remorse for their actions and are even defending them without understanding what exactly went wrong. And therein lies the root of the issue.
You say, in your piece, that we "need to be careful that we don’t undermine progress on this issue by citing examples of it that are an overreach and of such a tenuous nature they alarm people for an entirely different reason". You say that we shouldn't shame these people or label them as "bigots- or worse". And if I stretch my morals to the extent that I do, in fact, give them the benefit of the doubt, then I agree with this statement. Attacking each other for our "mistakes" is not the answer in this scenario. But engaging in constructive discourse is, and I don't think that labeling this as an "overreach" is the kind of action that works to promote this kind of discourse.
I do hope you, as well as my other readers, understand the basis of where I am coming from in the first half of my letter, and I think this is something that other people should make the effort to understand as well. If we don't, we simply lay down the foundation for ignorance, misunderstandings, and being blind to the plights of others. And if we don't address these underlying foundations of ignorance, it becomes harder and harder to stop this ignorance from building up into overt acts of racism. It becomes the catalyst for people to "hold, or propagate intolerant views of others based on their race", as you put it. And this is why I think it's not an overreaction. This is why I think it is something that needs to be addressed. Because if we don't address it now, no one will, and these ideas will proliferate until something such as an openly racist man getting elected to the most powerful position in the world happens, and continues to happen, and this is something that will legitimize racism and racist acts even more.
I know that as much as my fellow Canadians love to point and laugh at the USA for the apparent hole they've dug themselves into, this should serve as a warning that we have these kinds of problems at home as well. And we should take the first steps towards curbing it before it becomes something else entirely.
And one last thing: you say that sometimes a monk costume is just a monk costume. I disagree. A monk "costume" is never just a costume. It is someone's culture and livelihood and at the very least, deserves better than to be boiled down to some half-assed latex swim cap on the head of a privileged white person. Buddhist monks can rock their bald head way better than any of these kids every could.
Dear Donald Trump,
Congratulations. You did it. You've ascended to the highest position of political office in America, and arguably, in the world. You took on the establishment. And you won. You will be the 45th president of the United States.
To be perfectly honest, this was a result I would have never anticipated. Maybe because I never took into account just how many people in America have a mindset that was conducive to you winning. Maybe because I was in denial about the fact that someone with your track record could ever become the leader of the free world. But I have to say, you proved me wrong. You proved a lot of people wrong. To borrow a quote from one of my professors, you have "broken American political science".
So I believe that firstly, a commendation is in order. Congratulations on your unprecedented win. Clearly, there is a large part of the American public that stands behind your views as feels as though you've given them a voice that they never had before. So good on you for tapping into that demographic and taking advantage of their support.
If I may, there are some other things you've taken advantage of in the past. One of which is women. As someone who claims to have the utmost respect for women, being a serial adulterer with several allegations of sexual assault against you, as well as amassing quite the collection of insults to women that cover a wide range of topics, from a women's place in the home, to physical appearance, to bodily functions is quite atypical to expect from someone who claims "Nobody has more respect for women than I do". Choosing a running mate who has time and again, waged a war against the bodies of Indiana's women and makes every attempt to take control of their uteruses was also a great way to hammer this point home. Guess you both enjoy grabbing pussies in different ways.
Interestingly enough, your opponent was a woman. A woman with years and years of experience in the political arena, way more so than you have amassed. A woman who was gracious during the campaign process and didn't stoop in insults or fear-mongering, yet a woman whom you've labeled as "nasty". A woman who has been on the path of moving forward in her campaign focused on issues, but a woman that you still continue to blame for her husband's past transgressions while expecting your supporters to forgive your own. A woman who never pointedly asked people to vote for her because she was a woman, yet one whom you accused of playing the "woman card" and made comments such as "if she can't satisfy her husband, how can she satisfy America?" . A woman who has accepted her defeat graciously, perhaps more graciously than you ever would had the result of this election been reversed. That woman is Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I'm still with her.
And don't get me started on your dangerous and inflammatory statements on minority groups, immigrants, and refugees. Mr. Trump, you insult me and disgust me with your derogatory comments towards females. And that is personal. But so is this. I am a first generation North American, and my parents immigrated here with next to nothing in their name, and were able to establish themselves from the ground up. I appreciate that you have been able to build a successful company, with your seed money of $1 million. And I'm sure you've worked hard for what you have. But there is no way you can look to myself, my family, or the millions of other immigrant families who are the reason that North America is so great and so diverse, and say that they're lazy, or dangerous, or "bad hombres". I have witnessed firsthand what hard work and dedication to building a better life for those around you looks like, and these qualities are first and foremost espoused in our immigrant and minority populations. Rather than build a wall to shut them out (which isn't even financially feasible) or ban them, look to them and learn from them. They can teach you a thing or two about hard work, and sacrifice, and humility. And I think many people can agree that as a leader, being resourceful and learning things from those who surround you is a beneficial skill to have.
Mr. Trump, perhaps you don't realize the ripple effects that your presidency has. Maybe the scariest thing isn't that you will become president, but that this will empower radical groups to become even more violent. KKK parades have already been spotted around the country while schools are being sent into lockdown. This is a ripple effect of the election of someone who says he has a great relationship with "the blacks". Hate crimes against people of colour and minority groups increased exponentially during your campaign. What evidence is there to suggest you will do anything to stop this trend and condemn these acts?
You said in your victory speech last night that "this politics stuff is tough". And you're right. It is tough. And I'm not sure you know the magnitude of what you just signed up for. Mr. Trump, America is not just another Trump University, or Trump Hotel, or any of your other failed business ventures. If the going gets tough and you aren't doing well, you can't just throw up your hands and declare bankruptcy. You can't sue someone. You can't feign ignorance. This is a country, one of the most powerful countries in the world at that. These are people's lives that are at stake here. Do you realize this, Mr. Trump? I really really hope so.
Truth be told, Mr. Trump, the thought of your victory upset me so much that I almost didn't get out of bed this morning. I didn't know if I could physically process what happened, or go through my day knowing that the world I woke up to would be so fundamentally different from how it was when I went to sleep. But then I remembered that it was not so long ago that women were not even able to receive the kind of education that I'm so privileged to be immersed in. We were not even granted the right to vote. And while we have made progress as a gender, last night proved that we still have ways to go. I decided I had two choices: I could feel disheartened and spend my time wallowing in grief. Or I could get out of bed and do something about it. So I got up and went to class. I participated in discourse, making my voice heard. I talked to friends and family about what this election means. Step by step, I laid down the groundwork for what I will be able to achieve in the future, as I have been doing every single day before this election, and will continue to do every single day after it. Mr. Trump, your victory has made me sad, but not cynical. While this decision symbolically tells women we will never be as good as men, and never ascend to those positions of power, I refuse to believe that for a second. And I believe you deserve to be thanked for this, as your victory showed women how much more further we have to go. And I'm more motivated to do it now than ever before. I highly doubt that Hils will give up after this. You better believe she will pull herself up by the pantsuit and will keep fighting. And thats exactly what I intend to do.
Mr. Trump, while your election may still symbolize that minority groups have a long, long way to go, I also want to look at the good that came out of this election. Nevada elected America's first ever Latina Senator. California elected the first Indian-American Senator. Florida elected the first Vietnamese-American congresswoman. Oregon elected America's first LGBTQ+ governor. Washington elected an immigrant Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives. And Minnesota elected a Somali refugee to become a US legislator. Interestingly enough, these are all groups that you tried to target and belittle in your campaign, and look at them now. We will still keep fighting.
Mr. Trump, I could address you about your campaign platform and promises all you want. This letter would be substantially longer if I did, but I think it is more beneficial to focus on your future as the President of the United States of America. As I stated in the early part of this letter, you've shown that you have a tendency of proving people wrong. It is my sincerest hope that, during your presidency, you prove all of us wrong as well.
A millennial, Indian, first-generation Canadian nasty woman.
Dear Mrs. Margaret Wente,
I have to admit I'm not a heavy reader of newspapers such as the Globe & Mail, so it's purely by chance that I happened to stumble upon two articles of yours that have frankly made me as well as my peers a little upset. As you've so described in your article "Should Universities Police Sexual Assaults?", your "generation", the one responsible for granting "autonomy" to the university masses, isn't currently the generation that composes the university masses. While you, in no way, have tangible experience with the student life as well as the unique experiences of students in this day in age, you seem to have very strong opinions on university policies concerning very serious matters such as sexual assault.
It's clear from reading your past articles that sexual assault is a topic that has fallen on your radar as of late. In your article entitled "Truth and Deception: Ghomeshi Verdict a Good Day for Justice", you outline your support for the court's decision and attack the defendants for "grossly" failing to "tell the truth", effectively coming to the conclusion that "the justice system performed exactly as it should". Interesting use of the phrase "justice system", but as a good friend once told me in a discussion regarding the aftermath of this case, "it's a legal system, but by no means is it a justice system". To give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe the legal system did work in the way it was meant to. But I would hesitate to say that the aftermath has been representative of justice. Justice has not been served when the judge's final decision is a scathing defense of the trend of victim blaming surrounding all cases of sexual assault, an opinion of his which very clearly extends beyond the boundaries of the legal proceedings in this specific case.
However, while your aim of these articles was to take down the "myths" surrounding sexual assault, both on campus and in high profile cases, you have actually made it a lot easier for others to discredit you. You see, your articles highlight you as a perfect example of why university campuses should, in fact, have on-campus sexual assault policies, both proactive as well as reactive. One of the most simple, yet important proactive measures we have on campus regarding sexual assault is consent training and education, and from your article on Jian Ghomeshi, it is very clear that this is something you need. Citing the fact that the defendants in the Ghomeshi case did things like send flirtatious emails, flowers, love letters, etc and failed to mention them, as a way to discredit them, clearly shows your lack of understanding for the fact that consent is fluid, dynamic, and can be revoked at any point. This, interestingly enough, is one of the first things I learned about the nature of consent thanks to my university's proactive measures on dealing with these kinds of topics.
While proactive measures are one thing, the facet of campus sexual assault policy you seem to be at odds with concerns the reactive part, or the "policing", as you call it. You question the fact that it is no longer "enough" to refer sexual assault complaints to the police. This sentiment is problematic for a couple reasons. Survivors of sexual assault should never feel obligated to report their incidents to the police, or anyone for that matter, but if they choose to do so, there are some who may not feel comfortable going through an legal process and would rather just see to it that they can feel as safe in their university community as any other student. In any case, there should be some recourse available on campus itself, without getting any sort of legal aspects involved.
You also seem to have a bone to pick with those who falsify sexual assault allegations, as this is a "blatant violation of people's rights" and then going on to name incidences where men were on the receiving end of campus sexual assault policy. While this sentiment both solely points to men as the perpetrators of sexual assault and further ignores non-gender binaries, it further circles back to the issues of victim blaming. You point out in your Jian Ghomeshi article that the women accusing him of sexual assault could have easily falsified their claims to garner fame and money. While this is an incredibly scathing, inflammatory accusation, there exists a grain of rationality in this, albeit a very small one. However, I have to ask you what you assume someone who is the victim of a sexual assault on campus stands to gain by falsely accusing a fellow student? If anything, going through the perils of reliving a traumatic experience to the administration in lengthy bureaucratic processes that may not even work may even leave a sexual assault survivor worse off than had they not reported their experience at all, all in the hopes of getting their attacker off their campus, out of their residence, and being able to (maybe) feel safe in their university once again.
You say that universities should "endeavour to draw a bright line between criminal behaviour and the types of unpleasant and even ugly experiences that many of us have encountered at one time or another". While being able to create a campus culture that does not support said "unpleasant and even ugly experiences" is definitely the onus of universities as institutions, who's to say that they shouldn't reprimand those who practise behaviour deemed as criminal?
While I am a true believer in examining all sides of an argument and I believe your perspective has probably struck a chord with some, and I also acknowledge that this is an opinion piece (yet is also a policy prescription), I would like to point out the fact that the core demographic you are advising has not had any input in terms of this publications. From what I can see, there has been no efforts to understand current university students and what is affecting them in their decisions to support (or not support) an on-campus sexual assault policy. You cite two women- one who is an academic and the other who is a writer, as the sources that have shaped your opinion on this matter. How about actually working with the people who are going to be affected by these kinds of policies, those who are working in campus on consent and safe sex education, the support groups and networks created for survivors of sexual assaults, and the administrators who work within their systems to deal with these issues as they happen?
Mrs. Wente, I respectfully disagree with you and your loose generalizations of justice, consent, victim blaming, and campus sexual assault policy. I may not be the highly educated, award-winning career journalist that you are. However, I am a student embroiled in the centre of the issue you so blatantly seem to question. I have witnessed the impacts of sexual assault on people very close to me. I have witnessed the anger of my student body as our administration refuses to adopt or even listen to our proposals for an appropriate sexual assault policy. I strongly believe that this is an issue that you are wholly uninformed to address, and advise you to appropriately educate yourself on issues such as consent as well as consult students like me about how a university sexual assault policy will affect us should you choose to write about such a topic in the future.
I would, however, like to thank you for being able to state opinions controversial enough to generate discourse about this issue amongst my peer group and demonstrate to many (including yourself) how passionate students are about this topic.
I hope this letter finds you well.
All quotes obtained from Mrs. Wente's articles: Should Universities Police Sexual Assaults? and Truth and Deception: Ghomeshi Verdict a Good Day for Justice