Open thread: Michael Marrus and Massey College

For at least a year now people have been quite appropriately doing important work in questioning legacies of racism and institutionalized forms of racism at Massey College, including in the traditional use of the title “Master” to refer to the head of the College.

A hurtful, callous, and offensive remark made in the dining hall has added urgency to the discussion. It was described in the resignation letter of the scholar who made it as “a poor effort at jocular humour” and a “bad joke”. In part, Dr. Michael Marrus’ letter from 1 October 2017 says:

First, I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humour at lunch last Tuesday. What I said was both foolish and, I understood immediately, hurtful, and I want, first and foremost, to convey my deepest regrets all whom I may have harmed. What I said was a bad joke in reference to your title of “Master,” at the time. I should never have made such a remark, and I want to assure those who heard me, and those who have learned about it, that while I had no ill- intent whatsoever I can appreciate how those at the table and those who have learned about it could take offense at what I said.

I’m not going to link the rather foolish editorials published by The Globe & Mail and the National Post (two papers that seem to share lazy assumptions and ineptitude much like Canada’s Liberal and Conservative parties). Some more meaningful commentary has already been in the public press:

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College
An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story
By Audrey Rochette

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness
A former Don of Hall reflects on moving forward from conflict at Massey College
By Juliet Guichon

Black faculty members pen letter condemning Marrus, coverage of incident
Open letter criticizes media outlets for framing incident as “political correctness run amok”
By Aidan Currie

In my six years at Massey College, I have had regular routine and polite interactions with Dr. Marrus. My only exposure to his academic work has been two lectures he gave on the theatrical quality of trials.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “Open thread: Michael Marrus and Massey College”

  1. When it began in the 1960s, it was a snooty, men-only institution with an anglophile head, novelist Robertson Davies, who revelled in Brit pretensions. It took 10 years and a big fight just to get women in as members. The filthy rich, aristocratic Massey family endowed it, along with Hart House at U of T, also restricted to men for its first, oh, half-century.

    Part of the shtick at Massey was the archaic lingo. It was the only part of U of T with a “master.” Davies loved that stuff. My own guess is that Marrus, who I’ve known since high school, wasn’t just making an offensive, tin-eared joke. He also meant to take the piss out of the pretension. His jibe was probably directed mostly at the current master, Hugh Segal, a lifelong Tory, not at the Black student who was present. But everything went shriekingly off the rails.

    Apologies have now been rendered, Marrus has resigned, “master” will no longer be used — and this is how things get resolved at that weird place: with maximum public embarrassment. It’s a great piece of architecture, by the way, and you should drop by to see it, but be prepared for stuff like the gowns they still wear to dinner, where they still have a “high table” for the nobs and boffins.

  2. When you are agreeable, your race is rarely an issue. It’s only when you offer pushback or articulate policies that are deemed “too radical,” that you face harassment. Caricatures are created and quickly posted on online message boards like reddit. White men are praised for strong leadership. But people of colour, myself included, are described as “bullies,” “aggressive” and “angry.” In my case, more than one anonymous commentator on reddit thought it appropriate to call me a “dictator” and “tyrant.” Society already views people of colour, specifically Black and Brown people, as more violent, so it should come as no surprise that we are being described this way when we disagree. This sends a chilling message to representatives of colour—agree or be subjected harassment.

  3. “It is an ever more frequent discussion on modern campuses, about whether the Latin roots and common academic usage of the word “master” have been eclipsed by newer connotations of racism and slavery, and what to do about it in a climate of growing vigilance to language.”

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