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When Accommodation is a Slippery Slope.

When Accommodation is a Slippery Slope.

There has been a great hue and cry in the halls of academia—and beyond—this week after a student who was taking an online course through York University requested that he not have any contact with female students based on his religious beliefs. The professor delivering the course, Paul Grayson, initially denied the request but was stunned to find the university overruled his decision and chose to accommodate the student. Ultimately, the student relented and took the course, mingling with females.

While the issue may seem to have been resolved, it has sparked an outcry form students (both female and male) about how York University effectively relegated women to second class citizenship on campus over the supposed religious needs of one person. Justice Minister Peter MacKay even weighed in by saying, in effect, that Canada has not been sending soldiers to Afghanistan for years to fight for a plural, safer and inclusive society that is more fair and balanced for women, only to bend to the very laws and ideologies on a Canadian university campus.

What if a woman student…said she would not or could not work with someone of a certain religious belief system as it infringes on her rights and freedoms?

As well, many people, including those in the media, wonder where this could lead: refusal to study with people of colour, different religious beliefs or LGBT people. The fear is the flood gates may have been opened for people to self-select who they will work or study with based on their (alleged) religious or even moral beliefs. A slippery slope for sure, but one that slides in two directions.

What if a woman student at York University went to the faculty and said she would not or could not work with someone of a certain religious belief system as it infringes on her rights and freedoms and represents entrenched discrimination based on her gender? Would the university take the same stand it did with the male student and accommodate her request? What if a person from the LGBT community said the same thing, citing religious doctrine (not to mention a slew of political and social organizations) who actively work to strip human rights from queer people through legal or religious means?

He always had that choice. The women of York University seem to have had their choice taken away.

The ruling by York University’s Vice-President Academic & Provost Rhonda Lenton supported the student in question and overruled Professor Grayson’s decision. Perhaps she didn’t see this issue all the way through. Accommodating individual’s needs, while important, cannot supersede the be dome at the expense of others’ rights and freedoms. That’s called living in a plural society. I would argue that the student in question had the choice to either integrate with his female counterparts who are also working toward academic and life goals, or decline the course and find an education experience more attuned to his religious beliefs. He always had that choice. The women of York University seem to have had their choice taken away.

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AndyAndrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.


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8 Comments

  1. The whole point of getting an education is not about religion unless your studying them, It’s too improve ones knowledge so we may seek employment. I agree where, when, how and what will this come forth from again. I feel for this student as he through his religion has put himself in a bottle. The social interaction that comes from working together is an important part of life, he is loosing out as there are many Female employers and co-workers in this world. My question is what dose his future hold for him to only work with men? My thoughts about York having once attended there I do not agree with their accommodation and feel that they should have given him an extension so they could have thought it through instead of this quick resolve.

  2. It’s not a religious belief, it’s a cultural belief.

  3. I’m going to buy this man a beer whenever I meet him.

  4. I think that when Sect 15 Charter rights conflict, human rights, including gender equality, should always trump religious freedom. If you don’t want to be in the same space as women, don’t take the subway. Don’t expect the TTC to put on a special car for you because you do not want to be on the same car as women. You are still living in the dark ages. This issue brings back the sad memories of Mark Lepine’s actions of the École Polytechnique Massacre. Stand up against bigotry thinly veiled as religious freedom.

  5. I was really thrown by this! I’ve never heard of this kind of request, at least not in this era! I know in the past in Canada, women were heckled when first admitted to medical school and first became members of parliament, but neither they nor their male colleagues were told to leave the room!

  6. My planet Earth: includes women (last time I checked).

  7. (sigh) Yet another web article which misleadingly makes it seem as if the university supported the student. The entire faculty of professors stood against this, and it was just one ass-covering official who was worried about a lawsuit who tried to push the other way, and who backed off by the end of the damned day.

    Meanwhile, we live in a society which CONTINUES to have all sorts of incredible legal exemptions for the mainstream religion, allowing employers to dictate their employees’ health care choices, Catholic hospitals to run treatment options past a bishop for approval, and abusive Christian parents to let their kids die or get sick because of their beliefs about transfusions or vaccinations.

    But all of that is OK, while the same people who often support those rules get to puff out their chests and act self-righteous over this scandal which didn’t even last a day before being reversed.

  8. Totally agree those other examples are far more in need of attention. I guess the gender issue is super sensitive because it goes back so far as a societal issue and the knee jerk reaction against any regression, especially in the name of religion, gets people riled up fast.

    Yes to be fair to the university it was one person and it was resolved internally. Still the principle is still valid to debate as many places where immigrants are coming from prevent women from being included from these kinds of learning environments; not only co-ed, but in some cases at all! Maybe it was still useful to remind our public of very mixed cultures and faiths (or non-faiths) that Canada will not go down the road of religion over secular first and foremost. I would never want to see those lines get blurred.

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