Controversy erupts after Laurier TA shows Jordan Peterson clip in lesson plan

Photo by Madeline McInnis

Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as a teaching assistant in a first-year Canadian Communication in Context class, recently sparked a controversial discussion after showing her class a video clip of Jordan Peterson.

Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, who has frequently publicized his views which criticize the use of gender-neutral pronouns such as “they,” “zie” and “zher,” as well as his beliefs of the apparent dangers surrounding Bill C-16, which is now law as this past June.

According to Shepherd, the tutorial in which she showed the video of Peterson was based on the context of a grammar lesson.

“We talked about using ‘they’ in the singular. You could call that a current issue in grammar. A lot of people are arguing that you can’t use ‘they’ in the singular. And, ultimately, I said to them I consider it grammatically correct to use ‘they’ in the singular,” Shepherd said.

In order to further the discussion surrounding gender pronouns within the English language, the clip Shepherd showed was from a televised debate between Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in sexual diversity studies at the University of Toronto.

By showing both Peterson’s views and, after, Matte’s views, Shepherd believes she adequately, neutrally showed the viewpoints of both sides.

“[Matte] was arguing that language affects the dignity of trans people and his argument was that Jordan Peterson was not really acknowledging that. So both viewpoints were presented,” Shepherd said.

Although Shepherd claimed she did not elicit her own views on the topic by neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Peterson’s views, she said that many of the students within her tutorial did speak out on behalf of their personal views.

“Maybe some of the views that were expressed in the class may have been perceived as transphobic … when I hear stuff like that, I’m professional enough to know what to engage with and what to shut down,” Shepherd said.

“I made a point to not express my view … but I think it’s still important to listen to other people and listen to what they have to say. That’s what university is about — dialogue.”

Ensuing Shepherd’s tutorial, she was asked to attend a meeting with her supervising professor, Nathan Rambukkana, assistant professor in communication studies at Laurier, Herbert Pimlott, associate professor in communication studies at Laurier and Adria Joel, manager of gendered violence and prevention and support at Laurier’s Diversity and Equity Office.

“I think that there’s a time and a place for discussions like these. For sure, you want to be able to have these discussions and talk about these views and also how they hurt people. That doesn’t seem like type of discussion that she was trying to foster there. I think that there are definitely places to try and talk about these types of things but they are more specific.”

Shepherd was told at the meeting that either a student or a group of students had brought forth a complaint about the class. The number of students who were unhappy and the specific details about the complaint were, allegedly, kept confidential from Shepherd.

According to Shepherd, the three present in the meeting allegedly iterated to her that there should be no debate in regards to whether or not Peterson’s views are correct or incorrect.

“[They told me] the only acceptable way that I could have done what I did, was to completely condemn it before I even start playing the video,” Shepherd said.

“They told me that there’s no debate. They told me that this is not something that you can even discuss. And I find that dangerous. I find it dangerous to think that; here’s a prominent figure in Canada that’s in the news every single day, Jordan Peterson – I find it dangerous to think that there’s no debate about that.”

Furthermore, Shepherd claimed that those facilitating the meeting continued on to compare her actions in the tutorial to white supremacy.

“They were continuously making arguments or trying to compare me with white supremacists, which frankly really bothered me because I’m certainly in no way associated with that. I don’t find what I did relevant to white supremacy,” Shepherd said.

Overall, Shepherd stated that the meeting left her questioning whether she wishes to continue at Laurier.

“I don’t necessarily want to be associated with somewhere that is stifling the circulation of thought,” she said.

Alicia Hall, a student coordinator of Laurier’s Centre for Women and Trans People – who was not present for the meeting with Shepherd – feels that the way the situation was handled by administration reaffirms Laurier’s focus on inclusivity.

“I think that if you’re talking about grammar, I don’t quite see the relevance of bringing up Jordan Peterson … unless they’re specifically talking about gender and pronouns,” Hall said.

“By showing this video … they’re legitimizing the idea that non-binary identities are not valid and that they don’t need to be respected. And people coming to this class, they shouldn’t … need to be engaging with a discussion that’s essentially saying your identity doesn’t matter.”

While Shepherd accepts that the individual(s) who complained may have felt harm, she disagrees that silencing the conversation is the way to handle the situation.

“I don’t really usually dichotomize between the real world and the university, but I don’t think it does a service to students who are treated as infants … I don’t think that trying to insulate people and keep them protected away from things they might be uncomfortable with is helpful to their personal development or their intellectual development,” Shepherd said.

Hall reiterated that having discussions surrounding gender pronouns and similar topics is important, but should be kept for appropriate settings, such as panels or workshops, amongst other vehicles of discussions.

“I think that there’s a time and a place for discussions like these. For sure, you want to be able to have these discussions and talk about these views and also how they hurt people. That doesn’t seem like type of discussion that she was trying to foster there. I think that there are definitely places to try and talk about these types of things but they are more specific,” Hall said.

Laurier released a statement in response to the incident, which was first mentioned in a column published by The National Post:

“The university is committed to fostering a learning environment that is open and challenging but also welcoming and supportive of all students. The university is engaging a neutral third party to gather facts regarding the situation referenced in the column. Because of the privacy issues involved, we will follow established internal processes. It is important to understand that the issues involved in this matter are complex and affect all universities,” the statement read.

The Cord reached out to the three individuals present in the meeting with Shepherd but did not receive comments at the time of publishing.

26 Comments

  1. What’s most striking to me with this issue, is the fact that the actual POINT of Peterson’s misgivings with new non-binary gender pronouns is the issue of legally-mandated compelled speech. Anyone with the intellectual honesty and maturity to examine and debate his views can find that Dr. Peterson is not transphobic (and the numerous letters of support he has received from trans people can attest to this). He appears to care deeply and sincerely about the dangerous ideological motivations behind this drive towards compelled speech, that the legitimate needs and concerns of trans folks have been essentially steamrolled over by a larger political agenda that seems hell-bent on stifling freedom of speech.

    As a Laurier graduate, the handling of this situation by the school’s administration is deeply concerning to me. Universities are supposed to be a place where ideas and beliefs are challenged honestly and openly in the hopes of approaching something that approximates the Truth. If we can’t even have a dialogue about the issue, then Orwell’s Thought-Police have already won. Attempting to banish discourse with flagrant misinformation (labelling Peterson a “transphobe” or white-supremacist couldn’t be farther from the truth) is as cowardly as it is morally bankrupt. These are not the tactics that any establishment of higher learning should uphold – those tactics belong to the ideologically possessed.

  2. Pathetic. No wonder Laurier has some bottom of the barrel profs/academics.

  3. I’m very interested in hearing more about this ‘neutral third party’, assuming any of their findings are made public. Please write a follow up article, if you can!

  4. Laurier Graduate says:

    In the original report in the National Post, one of the Professors compared the neutral showing of this video to the neutral showing of a video by Hitler.

    Equating James Peterson, a UofT professor with controversial views to Hitler, a leader who murdered millions, is an irresponsible way of trivializing the Holocaust. These professors should be embarrassed and ashamed for using ignorant comparisons to bully a qualified Graduate Student into not having open dialogue in her classroom.

  5. I was in this tutorial with Lindsay, she is my TA, and frankly I think this situation is ridiculous. She in no way came off transphobic or alt right or anything and she didn’t validate Peterson’s views. She showed us a DEBATE that portrayed both sides, not just one and then let us talk about it. In the National Post article my professor said it created an unsafe learning environment. Honestly I think that’s ridiculous as well, we are in university now, not middle school, our professors can’t shelter us from the world, we are here at Laurier to learn about the world. We are exposed to this kind of opinion all the time, Donald Trump for example has negative views on transgenders. Especially in a communication studies class, we are learning about news and media and I don’t see how sheltering us will help us in our degrees or in our future employment.

  6. This is laughable. The DEO needs to stop coddling and cocooning. The real world does not consist of safe spaces, hugs and rainbows. You will get steam rolled if you hold these silly expectations.

    Sincerely,

    A grad in the real world.

  7. There are a lot a men and women who support you Lindsey in your effort to get an education – and boy are you getting one. Yes, you go girl – if your gut tells you: “I need to be somewhere else.” Go with your gut.

    Maybe you can take solace in one of these quotes from another reticent purveyor of veracity :

    “Pardon My Sanity In A World Insane”

    or

    “Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.”
    ― Emily Dickinson

  8. Alicia Hall just sounds like another annoying intellectual midget in WL who is confused about this whole situation.

    “I think that if you’re talking about grammar, I don’t quite see the relevance of bringing up Jordan Peterson … unless they’re specifically talking about gender and pronouns,” Hall said.

    Whaaat? You don’t see the relevance between grammar and Jordan Peterson’s debate about gender and pronouns, unless he is talking about gender and pronouns??? Are you contradicting yourself on purpose???

    The main concern here is freedom of expression, and Alicia seems to have a hard time picking a side!

  9. Shannon Gardner says:

    Never dare trample our free speech rights again or pay the price. Nathan Rambukkan you are a tiny genderless little man who wouldn’t dare say that shit to those of us in the real world. If you would like to debate feel free to pop by Ethel’s Lounge or any place really and we can discuss your views, Hitler’s and what disease you are spreading in society.

  10. This is beyond ridiculous. As a WLU grad, I am embarrassed on behalf of the institution…Knew it was bad before, but this is going to the next level. They can kiss my donations goodbye. Censorship and totalitarian tendencies disguised as political correctness and “safe learning environment”, whatever that means. Maybe they should study 1984 and Animal Farm!
    And what’s the role of this diversity office anyway? Sounds to me that they promote diversity in anything except thought and opinions. Coz you know, thinking and debating is becoming illegal…
    All the respect for Lindsay Shepherd – good for you for standing up to these Thought Police enforcers.

  11. the maoist response of the gender studies trannies is not surprising and more evidence that peterson was right about the pathetic lack of critical thinking in those departments.
    of course none of the WLU bullies who put on a display of their power over their student by censuring her for her opinion responded to the media, who can’t be bullied and censured because their is not power differential. chicken sht bullies abusing students.

  12. And the noose around the neck of academic free inquiry tightens a notch.

  13. I Can't Stand Jordan Peterson says:

    That guy is insufferable and should stick to his own field.

    Still, this ‘controversy’ is ridiculous. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Peterson, but misconstruing his statements is not one of them. It just gives him more reasons to complain of being victimized.

  14. Over a year ago, Jordan Peterson correctly diagnosed and predicted the scenario exemplified in the Lindsay Shepherd censorship by Wilfrid Laurier University professors and an administrator. With the passage of federal Bill C-16 and the Ontario Human Rights Code, these laws can be construed to mean that the university is obliged to suppress the free speech of Ms. Shepherd if one of her transgender students felt threatened. Strange but true. Dr. Peterson warned us but the Trudeau government passed C-16 this past June 2017.

  15. Nathan Rambukkana, Herbert Pimlott, and Adria Joel punished a graduate student for not adopting the “correct” political stance while she was instructing.

    They are illiberal cowards and bullies, and should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

  16. Frank Ch. Eigler says:

    The irony is beautiful. Peterson’s own predictions about how C-16 would be misused are the topic of the very misuse of C-16 he was warning about.

  17. The path the universities are taking is terrifying me they have turned into indoctrination cults. Dr. Peterson was right all along about Bill C-16, and we are seeing proof of this in these recordings. How have we reached a point in academia and society when we allow a tiny percentage of people who wrongly believe in gender- fluid and non – binary identities to take over the universities. There is no such thing as non – binary, gender – fluid….yes, there are intersex people but they make up a small percentage of the world population, less than 1%. I am still waiting for all the science and medical faculties across Canada to step forward and denounce this pseudo – science. Their silence on this debate is deafening! Here’s a fact, men cannot magically turn into women, and vice versa. As Ben Shapiro says, we should not be encouraging people with mental health issues to compel others to be in a false reality.

    Dr. Peterson is a great scholar and human being. It was an absolute pleasure and a honour that he agreed to be a part of my free speech panel discussion on Nov 11th. To hear that he is being compared to the greatest evil tyrant in world history is incomprehensible. Where is the moral compass of these faculty members? These people are trivializing and making a mockery of the Holocaust.

  18. I weep at the state of universities across Canada. I could have never imagined this Orwellian scenario taking place, it sounds like the universities have their own Ministry of Truth that is actively engaged in Big Brother tactics of surveillance and though policing.

  19. I listened to the clip. It sounds like the administrators think they’re being nice totalitarian intellectually-stunted cowards who can only win a debate if the fight is fixed.

    Evil is still evil if spoken in a soft voice.

  20. He who pays the piper, calls the tune.
    Any institution so far off base as this one can be reined in and made to see in a simple way. STOP FUNDING THEM !!! Money talks. The hallowed halls of education in Canade and elsewhere require large sums to continue spreading the word, any word. If you disagree with what passes for education in our world, stop enabling them. Give your hard earned after tax dollars to something worthy like the SALLY ANN or SAVE THE CHILDREN FUND.
    . Let these fools starve in the dark.

  21. To Anonymous from Lindsay’s tutorial: No one has said exactly what parts of the video were shown. Can you please tell us? Thank you

  22. Did somebody with an actual position at the University really saw what was quoted?

    “By showing this video … they’re legitimizing the idea that non-binary identities are not valid and that they don’t need to be respected. And people coming to this class, they shouldn’t … need to be engaging with a discussion that’s essentially saying your identity doesn’t matter.”

    How does showing a video with both sides of a debate indicate a person or persons is not valid? Dr. Peterson has never one time claimed trans people are not valid nor does he want them denied basic human rights, nor denied health care, employment, etc.. .he simply does not want the gov to compel speech.

    Zir, Ze, whatever are not real words and the fact they are chosen and preferred means you can change them again when the mood strikes you. If you wish to do that great, have at it. But NOT with the weight of the Law behind you and if I misgender you whether intentional or not (yes that is what the law says, intentional OR not) am now guilty of a crime? That is insanity.

    The three so called adults that attacked Lindsay should be removed from their positions and never be allowed in front of students again. What a complete shit show that school much be. Does anyone believe this the first time it’s happened? We never would have believed it to the level we do without Lindsay’s recorded proof. Thank you LIndsay

  23. Come to Laurier where your money is ours, your time is ours and your thoughts are ours too!

    Nathan Rambukkana’s bio reads as follows: I would gladly serve on committees for students researching digital culture, social media and games, global/diasporic communication; and representations of race, gender or sexuality in the media.

    Wouldn’t Nathan make such a great addition to your research project? Ze’d surely be glad to help you find what ze needs you to look for. If you don’t find it, ze will I bet ze’s really good at that! But don’t find anything ze doesn’t like, otherwise ze will use zir power to knock you down a peg for good measure and supervise your post Room 101 endeavors.

    Laurier! Where your thoughts are always wrong unless we say otherwise!

  24. Disappointed Alumni says:

    This entire episode is so disturbing. I’m frankly embarrassed to say that I graduated from this school, and in the future will likely opt to just say the name of the business school, instead of WLU.

    As an alumni, I hope the school and the administration know that many, including myself, will not be donating money or time in the future in order to support faculty treating adults like children, and misguiding them in such a harmful way.

  25. Interesting not one comment of support for the University’s policies or actions.

  26. Shocking that people are so one-sided without knowing what was presented and how it was presented in the tutorial. It didn’t occur to anyone that, maybe, just maybe, that grad student should have handled the tricky situation better so that a certain population of the student body didn’t feel hurt by a speech that could be perceived as hurtful.

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