On November 10, over 203,000 McGill University and CEGEP students in Quebec chose to have a one day general strike in protest of the upcoming tuition hikes. While 30,000-plus students marched through downtown Montreal, 14 students entered McGill University's James Administration building and peacefully occupied Principal Heather Munroe-Blum's office on the fifth-floor.
After physical escalation by security, students arrived outside the building to offer support and attempt to free the occupiers. The students eventually gained control of the outer doors from McGill Security guards and entered the building, holding a sit-in on the first and second floor as well as linking arms outside to prevent police access to the building. This led to an escalation which resulted in battalions of riot police carelessly harming protesters, confused students, professors and interested onlookers with batons, tear gas and pepper spray.
In the early days after the events of November 10 the administration used press releases and mass emails to spread misinformation, especially about the "violence" committed by the occupiers. The McGill Daily published an article from seven of the staff members working on the fifth-floor of the James Administration building defaming the protest and citing it as not peaceful because of the acts of trespassing, intimidation and restriction of freedoms. This letter is questionable because of two things: (1) the women working that day were all high-level administrators, a fact made obvious due to the people (80 per cent women) that are employed by striking labour union, MUNACA, were not present on that day, and (2) in the videos released by the fifth-floor occupiers, there is clearly present male VP Oliver Marcil standing with the Principal's Chief-of-Staff Susan Aberman.
At McGill Senate on November 16, Provost Anthony Masi delivered his speech about the events of November 10, which is now in question because of its problematic use of language and description of the event, particularly related to women and his misogynistic rhetoric. Students were so outraged by his commentary that many left the Senate and have now submitted letters demanding a public apology.
The Gender, Sexual Diversity and Feminist Studies Student Association (GSDFSSA) have issued a statement about Masi's Speach:
"At a meeting of the McGill Senate on November 16, Provost Anthony Masi addressed faculty and students on the events of November 10, focusing specifically on administrative staff inside the James Administration building at the time. Individuals present at the meeting, as well as those watching as it was live-streamed, found his sexist language and exploitation of authority to speak on behalf of others problematic."
The GSDFSSA then issued a public letter demanding an apology from Masi:
"During the McGill Senate meeting on November 16 Provost Anthony Masi made comments about the experiences of the employees working on the fifth floor of the James Administration building in the course of the November 10 student occupation. Masi stressed that those working on the fifth floor were women, emphasizing their fear and the fact that they were crying. This portrayal reinforces the victimizing narratives that restrict women to a submissive gender role. We, the Gender, Sexual Diversity, and Feminist Studies Student Association roundly condemn Masi's use of misogynist gender stereotypes to strengthen his rhetoric."
"By construing the female employees as incapable of handling the occupiers, he relied on the 'damsel in distress' stereotype to elicit an emotional response. It was unnecessary and offensive. While we understand that it was a stressful situation for everyone involved, Masi's use of sexist language is unacceptable. His description also ignores the fact that some of the occupiers were themselves women. Masi's sexist comments are especially disturbing given that he has the authority to veto any disciplinary measures resulting from sexual harassment complaints at McGill."
"We demand that the Provost immediately issue a public apology for his comments."
Fourth-year McGill University student Flora Dunster, an Art History (Honours) major and Women's Studies minor, issued a personal letter:
"In his account of the events of November 10 at November 16's Senate meeting, Provost Masi focused on the women who were working on the fifth-floor of James administration during the occupation, noting that 'the women who were in the offices at the time, and there were only several women ... were pushed and shoved ... they were frightened and they were crying.'"
"I was not on the fifth floor of James, and cannot speak to the truth of this statement, though the occupiers have contested its veracity. That being said, I find it troubling that Masi is exploiting gendered language to strengthen his rhetoric and promote a specific account of what took place. The women inside the building shouldn't be used as tools to vilify the students, nor should 'women crying' be used to strengthen the idea that an occupation is, by nature, violent or wrong. Should the occupiers have turned around when they realised that the staff were primarily female?"
"I don't want to marginalize anyone's experience or police emotions, nor am I saying that I don't empathize. I was scared; apparently they were scared too. It's an awful thing for anyone to feel this way in a space they consider safe -- be it office or campus. But that's not the point. What I want to make clear is that it's unacceptable for Masi to manipulate these experiences by way of language that emphasizes stereotypes of women as weak, in need of protection and sympathy. This rhetoric erases the women's agency by employing them as nameless pawns, and disregards the fact that crying, fear and trauma are not gender specific. Given that the women published a letter, which describes their experiences without employing these same stereotypes, I would ask that Masi watch his tone when speaking on behalf of others, and stop using paternalistic language that places him in a questionable position of authority and care."
Transcript of Provost Anthony Masi's November 16 Speech
It is with some reluctance that I speak, because I actually witnessed some of the things on the fifth-floor and I will speak to Dean Jutras about them. The people who were on the fifth-floor were subject to an attack by individuals, some of whom were wearing scarves and hoods and carrying a backpack. This is important, and you may turn your backs on the truth, but the truth is important. The women who were in the offices at the time, and there only were several women in the office at the time, were pushed and shoved-
and they filed incident reports. They were frightened and they were crying. There were many people trapped in the stairways
there were many people trapped in the stairways and they couldn't get out, not because of the police presence at that time, but because there had been a chain of individuals blocking entrances and exits. These events were very troubling inside of the James building for the people who were living that experience, and I think it's important that whatever we do, we don't detach what was going on inside from what was happening outside, because there were social media that were in fact being used to portray events inside that do not correspond to what most of those women were living through at the moment. When I got to the building - to the fifth-floor - and began talking to the individuals who were, by then, seated in the reception area, the only thing that we wanted to do was to make sure that every one of them got out safely and securely. Some remained with scarves and hoods. I couldn't identify them. I'm happy that the senator identified himself. But we got them out of the building because it was the best thing to do to secure not only their safety but to stop the events outside. This is important for all of you to remember. That there were events going on inside at the same time that there were events going on outside. And I'm sure that this is an important thing to remember. The staff members who were roughed up-
the students who rushed into the area physically harmed individuals but we gave them amnesty to get them out of the building so that no student disciplinary charges would be laid against them. We wanted them out, we wanted them out safely, and we wanted our people to feel secure. Thank you.
Transcript provided by Molly Bower.
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