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A Lack of Trust In Institutions: Empty Actions vs Real Understanding

June 15th, 2016     by Jenna MacKay     Comments

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At 10:30 on Monday morning I was notified that the door to our classroom was locked, and that I could “feel free to prepare [my] belongings for an evacuation.” We were told that a suspicious person wearing a mask and carrying a gun was spotted near our building. The campus was partially closed, and an emergency was declared. The building across the street was officially “closed,” with students, faculty and staff locked inside.

The University of Toronto (UoT) administration would not be closing our building, but recommended locking all of the classroom and office doors.

I was then encouraged by my professor to pay attention in class, and the lecture continued. The lockdown was never mentioned again, and there were no updates on the campus emergency. There was no acknowledgment that on Sunday morning we woke up to the news of a mass shooting of LGBTQ people in Orlando. There was no acknowledgment that sexual and gender minority members of the UoT community may find the campus emergency particularly distressing. We were not asked if were okay, or if we needed anything. We just continued to learn about the social work perspective of mental health.

I sat there trying to focus, but instead I thought about how some people believe that as a member of the LGBTQ community I deserve to die. I thought about all the times I have feared for my safety. I thought about how some lives, particularly the lives of people of colour, indigenous peoples, sex workers and gender nonconforming folk, are considered disposable. I thought about how vulnerable the body is. I thought about the Montreal Massacre, and sexual violence on campuses, and how women have no justice. I thought about how in the last 6 months over 200 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in the US, and how American LGBTQ people have no justice. I thought about institutional racism, and the mass murder of Black people, and how people of colour have no justice.

I wondered if a gunman were to enter our building, if he would break the panel of glass on the door to my classroom, reach in and turn the handle. I thought about defense tactics - how you are more likely to live if you fight back and attempt to disarm the person. Would I fight? Would anyone? Based on where I was sitting I would have probably got down onto the floor. What would be the best position to lie in?

I wondered what I would text my lover if I was at risk of being shot. I thought about how the Harper government scrapped the long-gun registry and I wondered if it will ever be reinstated. Do we need to wait for the next Canadian tragedy to spark gun control activism?

I thought about how when I started school last September graphic death threats were made against feminists on campus. UoT gave students no details and took virtually no precautions. My department never even mentioned it. I remember sitting in a classroom that was usually used for women’s studies courses and feeling like I was in a high-risk situation.

Instead of my social work class being a space to talk about our own well being - to process the hurt and rage over a horrific hate crime - it was business as usual. Tell me more about the difference between mental health and mental illness. Let’s discuss the components of a mental health assessment. What is the recovery model and how does it inform social work practice?

At lunch I tried to engage people in conversation about the stress of the situation. Some people had not heard about Pulse Nightclub. Others laughed and made jokes, talking about how everyone is overreacting and hyper-vigilant because of Pulse. Some people never made the connection between our situation and Pulse; they didn’t see a relationship. I could not comprehend how a connection could not be made, and I felt invisible.

Colleagues told me, “It is probably nothing. People are just being paranoid.” That may be true, it may be nothing, but those are the thought patterns of cis, white, middle-class, heterosexual privilege. The cognitions of people who feel safe and believe in a just world. Their blinders are the ones that uphold structural oppression. They are oblivious to their complicity in daily, invisible (and not so invisible) acts of violence against marginalized peoples.

At 3:29 pm, the campus distributes an email with the subject line “all-clear.” The president issues a statement thanking the university community, campus security and Toronto Police for responding quickly and calmly. He found it “a distressing day,” but was “very relieved at the outcome.” There were no resources offered to students who may need emotional support.

Our lecture ran late. As I left campus I saw the rainbow flag at Varsity Stadium at half-mast. Public displays of giving a shit juxtaposed with not getting it.

Tags: gender, police, violence

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