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Below is our open letter to the President and Dean of Laurentian University regarding their decision to restructure Laurentian University but cut many of its programs and fire hundreds of faculty. To sign the petition currently being circulated by Laurentian WGSX faculty please go here.
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April 13th, 2021
Dear President Haché and Dean Dickinson,
As the Steering Committee of the Sexuality Studies Association (SSA) we are writing to you on behalf of our organization to express grave concern over Laurentian University’s recent statement that it wishes to dissolve the relationship with its federated partners as part of a broader financial restructuring plan. The SSA, as an academic association dedicated to critical pedagogy, research, and advocacy ensconced in community engaged practices of social justice, wishes to express our strongest opposition to such unilateral decisions to disengage with federated partners such as Thornloe University (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies).
In the spirit of transparency and holding publicly funded universities accountable to the communities which they serve, we believe that Laurentian’s current efforts to restructure the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSX) program housed at Thorneloe University will have immediate negative impacts on current WGSX students’ education and employment prospects. Students will no longer be able to complete their degrees in the WGSX program – their chosen major. Critical programs such as Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies attract students from marginalized communities (e.g. women, 2-SLGBTQ+, trans and non-binary individuals and allies) who are passionate about feminist theory and praxis because it speaks to and resonates with their lived experiences. It is within critical programs that students receive validation of their own lives, learn to work across gender, racial, sexual and class-based differences, and become further committed to enacting social justice within wider Northern communities. WGSX students deserve the opportunity to work with faculty who are experts in the interdisciplinary fields of Women’s and Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, and Transgender Studies, rather than to be dispersed into other programs where questions of gender, sexuality and their intersections with race, colonialism and class are often peripheral at best. The meaningful educational offerings of the WGSX program not only work to recruit students, they are key to retention and solid rates of completion.
It is not hyperbolic to suggest that the WGSX program serves as a literal lifeline for many young women and members of two-spirit (2-S) and LGBTQ+ communities. Given contemporary discussions concerning student’s mental health and wellbeing, it is important to understand the psychological toll that such restructuring can have on current students. Disbanding the WGSX program indicates that Laurentian University is not committed to providing the physical, material or psychological space that comprises a safer environment for some of its most marginalized students to learn and gather. As members of Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as Sexuality Studies programs ourselves, we can attest to the emotional labour and support that dedicated programs like WGSX offer students. Such decisions communicate volumes to the families and broader communities in Northern Ontario from which future students will be recruited – their lives, experiences, struggles and triumphs do not matter.
It is sickening to witness the cutting of 110 faculty positions. Faculty and support staff many of whom are in the Faculty of Arts have lost their livelihoods. Other faculty members and support staff including our colleagues within the WGSX program are forced to work, and live, in fear of the closure of their program – one whose intellectual culture and community relations took years of labour to build. Grappling with the destruction of their program that took years to build will impact their wellbeing and the lives of their families. Such disregard for programs dedicated to addressing gender, sexual and racially-based oppression will have a corrosive effect on the broader Lauretian community. Throughout the past and continuing presently, faculty contributing to the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Laurentian have educated, mentored, supervised, co-authored and established research partnerships with many of the junior faculty and mid-career academics who comprise the membership of the SSA. The impact of their intellectual labour and commitment to social justice praxis reaches far beyond Laurentian University.
The Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program impacts the overall wellbeing of Northern Communities. Like similar programs in other universities, the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program provides service learning for other professional programs such as Social Work and Midwifery (which disturbingly has been cut). Such education rooted in broader feminist anti-racist, anti-colonialist intellectual traditions, as well as further commitments to equity and social justice prepare students to make positive interventions in their workplaces and wider community spaces. Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies faculty and students at Laurentian University have participated in, and often led, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, International Women’s Day Events and 2-S LGBTQ+ initiatives. Such events make space for the public dialogue and education necessary to evoke change that enriches the already vibrant Northern communities. The CCAA is providing cover to attack those academic programs whose transformative purpose is to advance equity-demanding groups in all aspects of our lives. The SSA counts ourselves as one of the many allies of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Laurentian University and we will not stand idly by and allow this to happen.
We demand that:
SSA Steering Committee
Dan Irving, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Ryan Conrad, Part-time faculty, Concordia University
Gary Lee Pelletier, PhD Candidate, York University
Patrick Michael Teed, PhD Candidate, York University
Patrick Keilty, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Cait McKinney, Assistant Professor, Simon Fraser University