Fear and loathing on campus

Op-eds Opinions

Prelude to conflict

Today at its Oct. 17 Annual General Meeting (AGM), the University of Victoria Students’ Society’s (UVSS) directors will request a mandate to ban certain pamphlets, which are based on religious doctrine, distributed by the Catholic Students’ Association (CSA). Additionally, they will ask for salary increases, as well as the privilege of remaining directors even if they drop out of school due to other time commitments. They don’t deserve more money, let alone the privilege of not having to remain students while serving.

There has been long-standing tension on campus between both Catholic and pro-life students and the UVSS, and sometimes university administration. The university is being sued for denying a pro-life club, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), permission to stage an event on campus—a decision motivated in part by the UVSS’s policies. This is the second lawsuit brought by YPY, which sued the University of Victoria in 2010 after being denied club status by the UVSS. Both lawsuits concern YPY’s right to free speech. The UVSS is treating the CSA in a manner similar to how they have treated YPY.

The motion proposed by the UVSS’ directors asks AGM attendees to ban the CSA from distributing three of their pamphlets on campus. These pamphlets outline Catholic views of love and sex. Moreover, the UVSS directors seek authorization in sanctioning the CSA for distributing the pamphlets. Essentially, the UVSS is asking attendees to vote democratically to revoke the participatory rights of a group it doesn’t agree with. The UVSS board’s motion quotes segments from the pamphlets that it finds objectionable. The pamphlets in question state that “the homosexual act is disordered,” and that gay men have a lower life expectancy. The pamphlets imply that women sometimes deliberately dress in ways that invite unwelcome male attention. These things are obviously incorrect and wrong, but CSA members still have the right to express their religious beliefs by distributing literature. The text of the board’s motion states that these pamphlets were simply “displayed.” The motion does not accuse the Catholic students of aggressive proselytizing or hassling passers-by. As far as I can tell, the CSA simply placed their pamphlets on their table during UVic Clubs Days in the Student Union Building, making them available for people to pick up. The content of these pamphlets is at issue—not the conduct of those distributing them. Ultimately, the UVSS has opted to wage a vendetta against a group whose viewpoints are unpopular and politically incorrect.

Unjust intent

The UVSS is acting like a bully. Political orientation doesn’t change this, nor does using the language of left-wing social activism. By proposing to censure the CSA, the UVSS has chosen moral entrepreneurship over freedom of conscience and expression. The UVSS claims that the CSA is discriminating against women and homosexual men in their literature. In reality, the UVSS is actually being discriminatory while claiming to be fighting against oppression and intolerance. This is not inclusion—it is exclusion.

The UVSS is an umbrella for many student groups and clubs. All have different ideas and goals. The UVSS should not be singling out certain groups for preferential treatment. It should especially not be trying to impose its own opinions on any of these groups. Each group should be treated fairly. It seems that those who do not fit into the UVSS’s left-wing ideal for campus society are pushed out and ostracized; religious believers and conservatives are not welcome.

I think the UVSS feels threatened by the CSA. Yet I fail to understand why. If the CSA were allowed to exercise its Charter rights, very little about the university or its generally left-wing student culture would change. I don’t see any danger here. Being offended or threatened by these pamphlets is a choice. I choose to respect the CSA’s freedom of expression. I also choose to ignore them. The majority of students at UVic would probably join me in this stance. A better way to deal with this issue is to engage the CSA in a meaningful, respectful, and mutual dialogue and discussion—not resort to heavy-handed measures. Individual students should simply approach the CSA on campus and initiate conversation. This is not very different from the dialogue that takes place in the classroom every day.

A still and quiet conscience

More students should take note of what is going on at the UVSS. Student apathy has allowed the UVSS to continue along this path. A small group of activists is using its power to dictate to other university students. According to the UVSS’s own results, approximately 3 000 students out of 16 700 eligible voters participated in the March 2013 board election, 18.83 per cent turnout. Only one candidate for director-at-large actually lost, and only one person bothered running for chairperson. If we are to have fair and accountable student government, we need more active student participation.

Help turn things around by going to the AGM at 3 p.m. in Cinecenta today (or run for election). Reject censorship and discrimination. Reject giving the UVSS directors a pay increase. Reject allowing them to drop out while serving. Tell the directors that enough is enough, and that it’s time for a reasonable UVSS.