Shy U of T student sparks discussion about accommodation at Ryerson


University of Toronto student Wongene Daniel Kim alleged discrimination in his claim to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. (Courtesy Twitter)

Ryerson staff have clashing views over a University of Toronto student’s recent admission about feeling “too shy and uncomfortable” to attend class where he was the only male student.

The student filed a human rights complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal after he failed the class, which he claimed was because of lost attendance marks.

When asked if Ryerson would ever move forward with such a request, Michael Forbes, manager of Ryerson’s public affairs, said it depends on what grounds the student has to file for accommodation.

“Requests for accommodation can be really complicated,” said Forbes.

The four main reasons for student accommodation are medical, compassionate, religious observance and disability.

Forbes said he was not sure which grounds a request such as “too shy” to attend class would fall under.

Forbes said each category of accommodation has a different application process and students always have the option to speak to their professor to make arrangements.

The university’s discrimination and harassment prevention services policy outlines that when students feel discriminated against, it has to fall under prohibited grounds.

Ryerson policies state that these include race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability and gender identity or expression.

Maliha Chishti, a Ryerson sociology professor specializing in gender and development, said while the request to miss class at all is based on tenuous grounds, she can certainly understand why participating in a class full of the opposite sex could make a student apprehensive.

For her, accommodation is a “non-issue.”

“My policy is to accept written reports for participation grades, so as not penalize students who may have read the material and have important insights, but are not comfortable with public speaking,” she said.

The University of Toronto student, Wongene Daniel Kim, alleged discrimination in his claim to the tribunal, but it was dismissed.

In her decision to dismiss the case, adjudicator Mary Truemner said Kim was incapable of proving that he had been treated unfairly.

“The applicant has not satisfied me that his claimed discomfort in a classroom of women requires accommodation under the code,” wrote Truemner. “He never gave the class or the women a chance.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014.

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