The Men’s Issues Awareness Society at Ryerson has received support from off-campus following its failed application to become a club under the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU).
The group applied for official club status from the RSU but was rejected last month based on safety concerns and its connections to the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), an organization critics say is anti-feminist and misogynist.
Last Friday, Robert Whitley, a researcher at McGill University, published an opinion piece in the National Post about men’s mental health in which he criticized the RSU’s decision to reject the group’s bid for club status.
In the Post he wrote, “When men and women attempt to organize discussions about issues affecting men’s mental health, they are sometimes met with hostility. This seems to be based on a misguided notion that men are already privileged in society and thus unworthy of attention.
“For example, Ryerson University’s student union recently rejected a fledgling men’s issues awareness group’s application for official status. Alexandra Godlewski, the group’s social media executive stated ‘they’re trying to silence men’s voices.’”
He added that not having safe spaces for men to talk about mental health can have a negative effect on men.
In an interview with The Ryersonian Whitley said, “I think it’s just important in general so that there be spaces where people can talk about men’s issues, but where men and women can talk about men’s issues because men face specific challenges in society.”
He said the suicide and substance abuse rates are higher among men than women.
It’s generally accepted that when people are given spaces to talk, especially about mental health, the results are positive, he said.
Whitley said men are unwilling to talk about mental health because of societal concepts of masculinity.
“I’m trying to open up the spaces, not only for men, (but) for everybody to reduce stigma and to try and ensure that people talk about these issues.”
It’s not the first time the RSU has been criticized in the media for denying this group club status. On the CBC’s The National, The Walrus editor Jonathan Kay spoke in defence of having groups that oppose the status quo on campus. The Post’s Robyn Urback also criticized the RSU for rejecting this group.
On the other side of the country, in British Columbia, Ryerson’s men’s issues group received support from the Simon Fraser University’s Advocacy for Men and Boys group in a YouTube video, published on International Men’s Day Nov. 19.
The group has club status from the Simon Fraser Student Society and has been operating as an official group on that campus since September.
In the video, the group’s president, Theryn Meyer, called the reasons the RSU cited for rejecting the men’s issues group baseless. She told Ryerson’s men’s issues president Kevin Arriola to “keep fighting back.”
In an interview with The Ryersonian, Meyer said that Arriola’s journey to try to get club status reminded her of her own.
“I fought just as Kevin fought to get my club going and luckily I pulled through,” she said.
Meyer speculated that her group got club status because she and her friend, who had proposed the group, were female.
She said she looked at the RSU’s reasons on why Arriola’s group was rejected and said that the RSU doesn’t have any basis to turn it down.
“I doubt that the Ryerson student union would bring up such concerns if a feminist group wanted to start,” she said.
“Despite the fact that there are many elements out there that you could deem as violent or as inciting violence.”
Meyer said it’s unfair to not offer the men’s issues group a chance to be established because the group “could turn into it,” referring to a fear that it could turn violent.
Arriola said his group appreciates the outside support.
“I am really pleased to see the outpour of support coming from the community. I think people are really starting to realize how unfair we’ve been treated, and they’re voicing their opposition to the injustice of it,” said Arriola in an interview with The Ryersonian.
Just last week the Ryerson’s Feminist Collective started a petiton on Change.org called “Say Yes to Equity on Campus.” The petition urges the RSU to reject the men’s issues group’s appeal and to reiterate its stance on women’s issues.
The next time that the men’s issues group can appeal to the RSU’s board of directors about the rejected application is Jan. 4.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 25, 2015.