Theater is normally a great escape from life’s absurdities. That is, unless a show is crafted around those very things.
An Unsafe Space premiered in Toronto this week, a two-act play written and directed by my friend Richard Klagsbrun.
As the play’s name suggests, it’s a take on the insanity that now passes for normalcy on most college and university campuses.
Set in a liberal arts professor’s home, the plot is driven by a meeting of students and faculty brainstorming how to block some evil, conservative benefactor’s $40 million grant, which they feel will stymie the school’s social justice bona fides.
Of course, their collective unity is threatened when Oliver, an aboriginal lawyer invited to assist their mission, ends up challenging their ideas and their assumptions about him.
The nonplussed Oliver is played by Craig Lauzon, the indigenous actor of Royal Canadian Air Farce fame. Opposite Lauzon is Precious Chong of Pearl Harbor, also something in the way of Canadian artistic royalty as the daughter of Tommy Chong.
The meeting is a solid reflection of the cast of characters you’d find on a 2019 campus. The bisexual Muslim, the intersectional feminist lesbian, the lecherous white, male “ally”, and so on.
As I wrote in a promotional blurb after reading the show some months ago, “An Unsafe Space slays every sacred cow…offering a tragically funny look at how the perpetually offended interact behind closed doors.”
At a preview performance Wednesday night, Klagsbrun’s writing elicited the laughs it deserved, aptly aided by the cast’s adoption of their characters’ eccentricities.
Though my amusement turned melancholic when I was reminded how real these people and their attitudes are.
Take campus activist Lisa’s response to the simple question of whether she studies political science.
“I’m doing my honours BA in gender studies,” she replies. “But I may take some poli sci courses. It’s a natural fit, since the intersection of gender and politics are critical to understanding the hegemonic oppression imposed by western, sexist, racist, capitalist structures.”
Or one professor touting his colleague’s worth as a romantic partner.
“Don’t worry. She believes in all the right things,” he says. “Feminism, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, opposition to hegemonic hetero-domination of society.”
I fear some audience members may view the dialogue as stilted and contrived, not realizing this is legitimately how the social justice warriors parodied in this production speak.
I’m no theater critic, but I am a student of the cultural trends that led to demands for safe spaces and the pigeon-holing of people in certain identity groups to believe certain things. That expectation from the characters and the audience is what makes Oliver so compelling.
The first act is somewhat circular, though I suspect this is a deliberate reflection of how a meeting of this sort would unfold in real life. The second act is a raucous, action-packed affair that I hope challenges the audience as much as it entertains.
My note of caution to would-be viewers is that An Unsafe Space is unabashed in its message. There’s no subtlety to it, though it shouldn’t have been written any other way given the subject matter.
Typically my criticism of any conservative-inspired art is that producers put the conservatism above the art. Conservative filmmakers are notoriously bad for this.
An Unsafe Space stands on its own, irrespective of its message. Though the message is what makes it so effective and timely.
Good as it is, it will never see the light of day on a campus. That is perhaps its greatest endorsement.
An Unsafe Space runs until Jan. 20 at Toronto’s Tranzac Club. Get show times and ticket information here.
The human rights industry is booming, which means those with social justice in their hearts and dollar signs in their eyes are set.
Canada’s largest postsecondary institution, the University of Toronto, is hiring an “anti-racism and cultural diversity officer.”
The successful candidate will work “to ensure that every member of the University community is afforded the right to study and work in an environment free of biases based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship or creed.”
Though religion isn’t included in the list, the new officer must have a “thorough understanding of issues related to race, culture, faith, spirituality, equity and diversity.”
The position has a salary range of $109,555 to $182,591, and, of course, requires working under the vice-president of equity, which is totally an executive-level position.
It may seem like a punchline, but these positions are growing increasingly powerful in a climate where anti-racism and cultural diversity are valued above academic freedom and freedom of speech.
Indeed, the University of Toronto job posting says this officer will be involved in drafting the school’s policies and practices surrounding “anti-racism, cultural diversity, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.”
The winning contender might even get to help bully pro-life students, as I wrote today happened at the University of the Fraser Valley.
(And of course priority is given to candidates who can check off as many boxes as possible in the “Diversity Survey” part of the application.)
This comes just a few weeks after the new Ontario government instituted a requirement for schools like University of Toronto to develop and implement free speech policies by January.
Perhaps then the taxpayers will be able to save the $182,000.
If you’re interested, or just want to have a laugh, the job posting is here.
Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer
The Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer serves the three campuses of the University of Toronto and works to ensure that every member of the University community is afforded the right to study and work in an environment free of biases based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship or creed.
Reporting directly to the Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity and with a thorough understanding of issues related to race, culture, faith, spirituality, equity and diversity, the Anti-Racism Officer works to promote inclusion within the University’s learning, living and working environments
Develops initiatives and collaborates on activities and programs that promote cross-cultural understanding and inclusion across the three campuses of the University of Toronto;
Works closely with the Special Advisor on Equity Issues and within the broader equity team to provide advice and make recommendations to University decision-makers, senior administrators and others in leadership roles on matters of policy and practice concerning anti-racism, cultural diversity, freedom of speech and freedom of expression for students, staff and faculty;
Works at the strategic level to promote inclusion within the University’s learning, living and working environments; works closely with the University’s Student Life and Human Resources leadership and portfolios.
In consultation with and guided by the Workplace Investigations Office, may conduct fact finding and/or investigations, recommends additional sources of assistance and resolution for complainants and respondents, provides mediation, information and expert advice.
The Anti-Racism Officer develops and leads related professional development and educational initiatives for all levels of the University community;
Develops standardized processes and guidelines for complaint management and resolution.
Graduate degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
Professional experience in and understanding of complex issues related to equity and diversity as they relate to the student experience and the workplace. A thorough understanding of anti-racism and cultural diversity frameworks essential. Experience working within a post-secondary context or similarly complex organization is highly desirable as is an understanding of issues of faith within a broader anti-racism and cultural diversity strategy. Familiarity with the University environment strongly preferred. Understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code required. Experience working with students and an appreciation for the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the University’s student body.
Excellent interpersonal, communication, facilitation and mediation skills; commitment to, and knowledge of issues dealing with discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship and creed. Experience advising on and conducting investigations; experience developing and providing professional development and education.
Ability to engage with various stakeholders and members of the University community and connect and build rapport with student groups; ability to work within a team; research skills; project management and resource development skills; ability to operate at the strategic, policy and operational levels; highly developed leadership skills; highly developed organizational and program development skills.
Commitment and sensitivity to matters related to the student experience, educational opportunity and employment within a broader anti-racism and cultural diversity strategy; demonstrated analytical ability and ability to use initiative and good judgment in decision making. Willingness to work outside of normal working hours.
University of the Fraser Valley teaching graduate Valerie Flokstra (Supplied)
Discussing abortion is “hateful” and threatens classroom “safety,” according to comments contained in leaked audio of a meeting between a former University of the Fraser Valley graduate student and two of her professors.
Valerie Flokstra, a recent graduate of UFV’s teacher education program, was summoned into a meeting with a professor and her department’s head in December after citing a medical statistic related to abortion during a classroom discussion.
Students were told premature births were contributing to increased autism diagnoses. Flokstra questioned whether high abortion rates in Canada could be playing a role, citing studies showing a link between abortion and later premature births.
Asking that made the classroom an unsafe space, the 22-year old was told.
Flokstra covertly recorded the hour-long meeting with Prof. Nancy Norman, in whose class the incident took place, and Prof. Vandy Britton, the head of the teacher education department. Fearing academic reprisal, she waited until after graduation to share the audio. She now works as a teacher at a British Columbia private school.
Though Flokstra is pro-life, she said her question stemmed from a place of academic inquiry, rather than promotion of an agenda, acknowledging she learns through questioning and challenging her own assumptions and those of others.
The professors never disputed the facts Flokstra cited, instead taking issue with how they are uncomfortable or triggering for students to hear.
When Flokstra said in the recording she was embracing “critical thinking,” Britton said that’s not a priority for the program, which, according to its website “focuses on social justice and inclusion.”
“It’s not critical thinking. It’s critical mindedness, which is different,” she said. “Okay, so, critical mindedness is about being open to other people’s ideas too, and hearing what they say and not always filtering it through your lens.”
Flokstra told me she has never raised abortion in the class before; her professors gave no indication in the recording that this incident was part of a pattern.
Even so, the professors first accused her of “derailing” the classroom discussion, before shifting their objection to the impact her observation may have had on students’ “feelings.”
Flokstra questioned whether the classroom is about “feeling safe at all times, or if it’s about learning.”
“I’m just going to speak hypothetically,” Britton responded. “If I’d had an abortion for whatever reason, and then someone said to me, ‘You’re going to give birth to a kid with autism because of that,’ how would that make me feel, and how would that possibly help me with my learning?”
Flokstra said it’s only through free speech and open inquiry that students are able to learn.
“It has nothing to do with freedom of speech and sharing ideas,” Britton said. “It’s skill level. That you create an environment in a classroom, where— no matter what age of people that considers the needs of people. If I came in and didn’t let you say what you believe, I’m shutting you down.”
However, moments earlier Britton said instead of participating in class discussions, Flokstra should just write down her thoughts for herself.
“Because that’s a great way for you to learn,” Britton told her.
The conversation got emotional when Flokstra brought up an incident she had two months earlier with another professor, Awneet Sivia, of which Britton was aware.
In October, 2017, Flokstra was called into a meeting with Sivia after expressing discomfort with an in-class role-playing assignment that featured a scenario with a same-sex couple.
Flokstra cried as she recounted being told by Sivia to “put my Christian identity aside and put my teacher identity on top of that.”
Though this specific allegation cannot be independently verified, Flokstra did provide an email exchange with Sivia referencing the incident. In the emails, Flokstra says she will participate in all scenarios moving forward, understanding their value to her learning, even when she’s uncomfortable.
She also asked Sivia to put her concerns in writing to better help her understand the professor’s expectations.
Sivia refused, saying no written notes were necessary because she was, at that point, satisfied that Flokstra is working “towards being a socially just, inclusive teacher and modeling the (social justice) program value.”
Britton said she would take issue with abortion being raised from either a pro-life or pro-choice perspective, but at one point initiates a debate about abortion with Flokstra, before catching herself and getting back on topic.
At a particularly tense moment in the meeting, Britton likens discussing abortion to allowing a hate group on campus.
“It’s not freedom of speech per se,” she said. “We still consider people’s feelings and we don’t just say whatever. Otherwise— That’s why we don’t have the KKK having a club on campus. That’s not freedom of speech. That’s hate, right? So we don’t put forward ideas that are intentionally or not, that are hateful. And I think sometimes abortion is one of those contentious issues that can make someone feel that they feel threatened on both sides.”
Sivia and Britton did not directly respond to my inquiries, but University of the Fraser Valley communications director Dave Pinton provided a statement.
“The UFV Teacher Education Department, the Teacher Education Program, and UFV are deeply committed to respecting freedom of religion, the right to free speech, and to upholding an overall policy of inclusion,” he said in an email. “It would be a breach of confidentiality to comment on any situation involving a particular student. To comment on specifics would constitute a breach of privacy under BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”
The UFV teacher education website promises to equip each graduate “to become an agent in the changing landscape of 21st century education,” in particular citing “core courses in social justice, special education, Indigenous education, second language instruction, and reflective practice.”
Flokstra’s ordeal has numerous similarities to what former Wilfrid Laurier University graduate student Lindsay Shepherd experienced last year. In fact, Flokstra credits Shepherd’s ordeal with motivating her to record the meeting in the first place.
Much like with Shepherd, Flokstra’s professors attempt to couch offensive recommendations with an “I’m on your side” attitude, using social justice as a trump card over academic inquiry. Just as Shepherd’s professors compared Jordan Peterson to Adolf Hitler, Flokstra was told discussing abortion is like a UFV KKK club.
It’s this attitude, particularly in the teacher education program, that Flokstra said she wanted to challenge by releasing the audio.
When freedom of speech is hindered, so too is learning.
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative.
Because they’re too busy waging it.
The National Campus Life Network last week released a video featuring a monologue by Maggie McAuley, a pro-life activist at the University of Windsor.
In the video, McAuley alleges she was “spat upon” by a professor during one of her pro-life demonstrations on campus. When she complained to police, they threatened to arrest her for her lawful demonstration.
She says one man put a photo of an aborted fetus in her mailbox with the caption, “Your baby after I rape you.”
After being assaulted, threatened with rape, and subjected to much verbal abuse, McAuley went to her school’s women’s centre. Despite being a young woman victimized by men’s violence, there was no support available to her from the supposedly feminist agency on campus.
“Instead of helping me, my women’s centre denied me,” she said. “They told me they wouldn’t help me because it was a pro-choice space. Professors, campus police, the women’s centre, and my student union perpetuated a dehumanizing environment to such a degree that someone felt justified in assaulting me.”
I should probably clarify that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance doesn’t actually have a “women’s centre.” No, the mandate of helping women on campus falls on the “Womxn’s Centre,” defined on its website as “an actively pro-choice, feminist space.”
Womxn is not the latest anti-biotic to hit the market, but rather a feminist spelling intended to stress that women—erm, womxn—don’t need “men” to exist.
The only way this agency would care about a rape threat against a pro-life woman is if the assailant was dressed as the letter ‘E’.
The center ignored two requests for comment I sent regarding McAuley’s allegations. Unsurprising, because there’s no answer that doesn’t expose the hypocrisy inherent in how many feminists view pro-life women. To blame is intersectionality—the idea that all forms of purported oppression have to be dealt with in tandem.
A woman facing threats and violence from men used to wield a social justice trump card. Now, victimhood is not determined by what happens to a woman, but by what she believes. At the University of Windsor, being pro-life is the new “she was asking for it.” McAuley learned this the hard way by not espousing the ‘correct’ identity politics.
This was apparent on a national scale when the federal Liberal caucus waged procedural war on Lethbridge, Alberta member of parliament Rachael Harder, the Conservatives’ shadow minister for status of women.
Harder is a millennial female in political leadership. That used to be the type of person lionized by the Left, but any celebration is eclipsed by the fact that she thinks abortion is wrong. She isn’t alone, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
A 2016 Ipsos poll found little distinction between men and women in likelihood to be pro-choice or pro-life. Of men, 57 per cent said a woman should be able to choose when and if she has an abortion, while 58 per cent of women took the same stance.
In disagreeing with that, Harder is on-side with more than four in 10 Canadian woman, yet to the Liberals, that disqualifies her from chairing the committee tasked with championing women’s issues in government.
It’s true that female public figures face different kinds of criticism than their male counterparts do. That problem is even more amplified for pro-life women, who are subjected to untold numbers of sexual comments and detailed critiques of their appearance from internet troglodytes. But there’s an added dimension of scorn from the liberals and feminists who present themselves as bastions of enlightenment and social justice.
These voices accuse pro-life women of being traitors to their sex and attack them for not hewing to intersectional feminist theory. They’re too daft to see how hypocritical it is to tell a woman what she’s supposed to think. Is that not the paternalism against which feminists are supposed to be fighting?
This attitude is not exclusive to pro-life women, of course. It’s the same phenomenon that’s led to the denigration of “white feminists”—women accused of having too much privilege to speak to social issues. It’s also at the epicenter of the feud between intersectional feminists and TERFs (or trans-exclusionary radical feminists) on the issue of transgender identity.
Identity politics is so engrained in liberalism that the Left does not accept or even understand the idea of a member of one of its preferred groups going rogue, ideologically.
It reminds of a quip by transgender trailblazer Caitlyn Jenner at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
“It was easy to come out as trans,” Jenner said. “It was harder to come out as a Republican.”
It’s easier for the Left to get the idea of a woman having a penis than it is to understand a woman with a penis liking gun rights and lower taxes.
If support for a group is contingent on ideological beliefs, that support is a sham. If those on the Left want any credibility in speaking up about the war on women, they’d do well to address their part in it.