A controversial University of Toronto professor is coming to Western's campus later this month.
Professor Jordan Peterson has been widely debated at University of Toronto since last fall when he posted a video on YouTube outlining his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns when addressing students.
Young Canadians In Action (YCIA), a new group at Western, is responsible for bringing Peterson to speak on March 18. The group was formed to spark conversations specifically related to politics among students on campus.
Peterson has raised issues with Bill C-16, which adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, saying that some of the things he teaches could now be deemed illegal.
The response has been polarizing, with detractors saying that he fosters a dangerous environment for transgender students and supporters saying he is a champion of free speech. The debate has spurred protests in Toronto which have at times turned violent.
Peterson’s talk will be held in the UCC and will be followed by a question and answer period. YCIA is charging $5 for tickets on Tilt, where seat reservations can be made, and at the door.
Kyle Maresky, a first-year Western engineering student, is the leader of YCIA and shares Peterson’s concerns about the new legislation. He says, “with Bill C-16 in front of the Senate, I think now, especially, is a good time to get Canadians talking about the issues surrounding free speech.”
Dr. Wendy G. Pearson, associate professor in Western’s department of women's studies and feminist research, thinks Peterson’s concerns with the legislation are exaggerated.
“No one is going to be throwing anyone in jail for getting someone's pronouns wrong,” she said.
Pearson also believes that his claims are an obstacle towards meaningful discussion regarding the trans and non-binary community, and that the rhetoric he uses is meant to be inflammatory.
“I guess he wanted his 15 minutes of fame and couldn't find a more productive way to attain it,” she said.
Professor Samantha Brennan of Western’s department of philosophy shares this concern, saying that it is wrong to question the gender identity of students.
Brennan also questions the motives for Peterson’s appearance.
“He's a polemicist,” she said. “He's a highly-paid university professor who is attracting a lot of support from the alt-right movement.”
Peterson’s comments have already been a topic of debate at Western, and even the USC presidential slates weighed in on how they would handle him coming to speak.
At a debate in January, Mohammad Hussain of Team Jan/Mohammad said, “If people are coming to campus and they’re saying things about [students] that [are] hurtful to their mental health, we need to say that this speaker shouldn’t be welcome on this campus, or if they are we shouldn’t be making profit off it.”
Hussain clarified that he believes all voices should be heard on campus, and voices like Peterson’s should spur healthy debate.
Maresky is hoping to underscore Peterson’s demand for free speech, even if some students find his ideas to be hurtful or transphobic.
“I think there is a conversation going on about balancing free speech and political correctness, and I think on college campuses and in liberal arts classes especially, it’s a very one-sided conversation,” he said.
Check out the Facebook event for more information.