RSU reacts to university’s decision to cover men’s rights event security fee

The statement posted on the Ryerson Students' Union Facebook page Wednesday night. (Courtesy Facebook)

The statement posted on the Ryerson Students’ Union Facebook page Wednesday night. (Courtesy Facebook)

The Ryerson Students’ Union blasted Ryerson University’s administration Wednesday night for covering the cost of a controversial men’s issues speaking event on campus.

The union claims the decision “actively (facilitates) the creation of a men’s rights movement on campus, which targets women, feminists and works against (Ryerson’s) mandate to provide safe spaces on campus.”

In a statement posted to the RSU’s Facebook page, the union said its executives “are concerned with the precedent this sets for hateful groups to take up spaces on our campus, and for the safety of our members when they choose to fight for gender equity.”

Ryerson reversed its decision Tuesday to charge a men’s issues advocate $1,600 for extra security at the campus event on “Feminism, Free Speech and the Censorship of Men,” which marks the launch of a Men’s Issues Awareness Society at the university.

“This decision is not about the content or subject matter of the event nor is it an endorsement of the event or the organization; it is about the university removing barriers to freedom of speech and expression,” read the university’s statement.

The controversial talk, organized by the men’s issues-focused Canadian Association for Equality on Feb. 6, will feature Karen Straughan, the YouTube personality behind the channel GirlWritesWhat.

Straughan is expected to speak about the need for safe spaces for men’s issues discussions, although founding CAFE board member Iain Dwyer admitted “Karen does take issue with the actions of certain feminists. But the main emphasis – we’ve spoken with her about this and with all of our guests – (is) that we really want things to be constructive (and) proactive.”

Men’s issues awareness has become a controversial topic on university campuses and received heightened attention at Ryerson after a lecture on the matter led to protesters at the University of Toronto in November 2012.  It’s the reason Ryerson decided to boost security for Straughan’s talk.

According to Ryerson spokesman Michael Forbes, the school decided to hire 10 uniformed guards at the event, and changed its venue from the Mattamy Athletic Centre to the Chang School of Continuing Education for security reasons.

The event’s student organizers had to submit a request for campus space and complete a risk assessment form to host the Straughan talk. Forbes said the forms consider whether alcohol will be served at the proposed event, if cash or valuables will be exchanged, and whether a controversial speaker will be the subject of the event and whether protesters plan to attend the event.

Forbes said he expects Straughan’s talk will attract protesters, but that it’s hard to predict whether the “chatter on social media” will turn into a demonstration on campus.

“The goal of the administration is to try to have a safer event,” Forbes said.

Dwyer, a founding member of CAFE, welcomed the university’s decision to cover the security fee.

“We’ve never disrupted any events. We’ve never pulled fire alarms, we’ve never done anything that would require security measures. It’s always been our detractors,” he said. “I think if (the university) could figure out a way to send the bill to the protesters, they would.”

Dwyer said CAFE has had to pay for extra security for its events at U of T. He hopes Ryerson’s added security won’t be necessary.

“I think a lot of it is sort of overcoming that initial gut reaction. When you say ‘oh, I want to talk about men’s issues, certainly a gut reaction is well what do you have against feminism? I personally don’t think that’s a fair reaction, but that’s often what we get.”

Permission to create a men’s issues group on campus, in affiliation with CAFE, was denied last spring after the RSU suddenly passed a policy that determined such a group would threaten the empowerment of women on campus.

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