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.

Now a Massey alumnus

This fall, it has been a bit sad to spend my first September at U of T after finishing my five years as a Massey College Junior Fellow: not getting invited to orientation events, or told about the official college photo.

Massey has had an enormous influence over my time at U of T, and it’s hard to imagine how the PhD experience would have been without it. U of T is so big (as is the political science department) that I would never otherwise have had such a sense of community, much less the cross-disciplinary and stimulating environment of Massey.

As an alumnus, I am still free to participate in most college events, and I have been enjoying meeting this year’s crop of Junior Fellows. I’m grateful that I have had the chance to experience graduate school again, after working for long enough to know what a privilege it is.

Remembering Helen

Helen’s funeral was beautiful and a tribute to the influence she has had. It filled the lower level of the Old Vic building at Victoria University. Eulogies from friends, her brother and sister, supervisor, father, and husband were moving and spoke universally of her selflessness and determination to make life count in the face of lifelong cardiac risks. They also detailed her curiosity and insight, devotion to teaching, and impressive academic accomplishments during her PhD.

She had directed that the memorial be held in the style and spirit of her wedding, so there were activities (anthropomorphizing mandarin oranges with black jiffy markers, people spontaneously playing the piano) and vast amounts of excellent food, much of it with meringue googly eyes on it.

The tone ranged from pained and somber to jubilant and appreciative, sometimes within a span of seconds. It was clear from how people spoke of her that my comparatively few experiences with Helen were typical: demonstrative of her compassion, creativity, and immediate willingness to connect with people.

A break from grading

At lunch at Massey College today, the closest available seat was beside a fellow Junior Fellow and photography client who was having lunch with Carolynn Benett, the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

We were soon joined by a climate change advisor from the Ontario provincial government and ended up talking about carbon capture and storage; the dangers of sea level rise; mitigation pathways for meeting the Paris Agreement climate change targets; the lack of a sufficient climate change plan from any Canadian party or government so far; the imperative not to invest further in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure; renewable energy options; nuclear power; ways to reduce and replace diesel use in remote communities; and passive houses.