Brennan: Why I didn’t protest Jordan Peterson’s visit but newspaper coverage almost makes me wish I did

I don’t like our university’s reputation sometimes.

This week, I was at Brock giving an invited guest lecture on micro-inequities and implicit bias to their newly founded women’s caucus and the first question I was asked was about Jordan Peterson. “Didn’t Western give Jordan Peterson a warm welcome? It’s odd having someone from such a conservative campus speak to us about bias and discrimination.” I sighed. I knew the source of the question. “Controversial University of Toronto prof gets warm welcome at Western,” read the National Post headline.

It seems I can’t win. If I protest Peterson’s visit, I’m an enemy of free speech. If I don’t, then our campus is seen as “warmly welcoming” him. I want it to be known I think Peterson’s views about gender are both false and hateful. His failure to recognize the pronouns by which his students wish to be called is both disrespectful of his students and an infringement of their rights.

I am angry Peterson manages to paint himself as the champion of free speech. I’m also angry protesting Peterson’s lectures is seen as trying to shut him down, rather than as voicing disagreement. It seems to me there are ways of protesting that make it clear what you are protesting is the content of Peterson’s views, not his right to express them. The line gets crossed for me when protest makes speech impossible, i.e. yelling and shouting during his lecture. But signs outside of the lecture needn’t be seen as attempts to stop him from speaking.

I chose not to protest Peterson (even with signs outside his lecture) because it’s getting very hard to be seen as protesting to show disagreement. I’m also worried his efforts to cast himself in the role of free speech hero are only helped by protests. The more his talks are protested, the more notoriety he gains and the more money he fundraises. He is a hateful man who is hurting his students, and trans and non-binary students, indeed all students, deserve better.

My own preference was for ignoring Peterson’s visit to Western, not because I warmly welcomed him, but because I don’t want to play into his rhetoric of trying to shut him out. Instead, faculty and students at Western organized an event, Trans Rights are Human Rights: The Importance of Recognition.

Samantha Brennan

Professor

Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, Philosophy and Political Science

Member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy