A UBC professor is facing criticism and threats after censuring fraternities for their involvement in the university’s Remembrance Day ceremony.
On November 11, economics Professor Dr. Marina Adshade tweeted that she feels other groups should be represented in the ceremony in the midst of UBC’s ceremony in the War Memorial Gym.
The controversy follows friction between Adshade and fraternities after she alleged in a tweet that six female students had been hospitalized after being drugged at fraternities. In the wake of these allegations, UBC asked the RCMP to investigate; the Interfraternity Council (IFC) indefinitely suspended its public social events and the AMS Council reviewed and eventually voted to remove the IFC’s club status.
In an interview with The Ubyssey, Adshade said she feels the ceremony could have had better representation.
“My objection is actually not that they lay a wreath. If they want to continue to lay a wreath, fine. My objection is that they somehow represent the student body,” said Adshade. “We have students here who’ve experienced war firsthand. Why not involve those students in the ceremony?”
Her tweet received over 250 replies, in large part from those claiming to be fraternity members.
“Every death is a tragedy to someone somewhere. Members of fraternities have experienced losses over wars and conflicts and they are simply paying their respects just like everyone else on Remembrance Day,” wrote IFC President Adan Moallemi.
Others argued that fraternities are good representatives because many of their members and alumni are military-connected or veterans.
“99 men of UBC’s Beta Theta Pi Chapter served in World War II. Nine of those young men never returned... Today, fraternity members lay wreaths at UBC’s ceremony to remember the their brothers and the many veterans that serve this country,” wrote Twitter user @aaron604.
But some of the replies were more hostile.
“Motion to #DonCherry @MarinaAdshade,” wrote Twitter user @whattadobabyboo, referencing the dismissal of hockey commentator Don Cherry after he delivered an anti-immigrant rant about Remembrance Day on Sportsnet.
Adshade said she thought about taking down her post when it started getting so many negative replies, but she decided to keep it up to promote discussion.
"I allowed them to continue to comment really just out of respect for the idea of open dialogue,” said Adshade. “What I don't understand is the characterization of what I said as being a vile, hate-filled rant.”
When civil discussion becomes harassment
It wasn’t long before the flood of comments began to escalate, to the point that Adshade later tweeted she’d received threats from UBC fraternity members.
Several faculty members spoke out in support of Adshade.
“Today a man forwarded me a letter he wrote to Santa Ono and Chancellor Lindsay Gordon. It was a right-wing rant against universities, full of offensive racial and gender slurs, and targeted @MarinaAdshade in particular, suggesting she be subjected to heinous violence,” wrote Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, a UBC sociology professor.
“This is only one example of the many harassing and threatening messages targeting this faculty member since she raised concerns about the role of fraternities at UBC.”
Dr. Nassif Ghoussoub, UBC math professor and a Vancouver Board of Governors faculty member, confirmed that he had seen a copy of the threatening letter.
“This is no more just about protecting academic freedom, it is about protecting our own faculty, staff and students from various forms of violence,” he wrote.
Max Holmes, a Vancouver Board of Governors student member, also tweeted in support of Adshade.
“UBC Administration is always defending controversial speakers being allowed on campus as ‘academic freedom’ Yet, they have said nothing defending the REAL academic freedom of @MarinaAdshade. It is unacceptable that critics of Greek Life are subjected to threats and intimidation,” he wrote.
“There are hundreds of communities on this campus, yet Greek life is one of the rare communities that if you criticize them you get anonymous threats and intimidation. This is a trend, when I spoke out about the IFC during elections I too received messages like this. I hope that both UBC and the fraternities will speak out and denounce threats of this kind against a member of the UBC community,” Holmes added, referencing to his rejection of the IFC’s endorsement during the 2018 AMS Elections.
In an official statement on its Facebook page, the IFC said it felt an obligation to “speak up for [its] community” and did not intend to infringe on academic freedom.
“The IFC condemns any alleged threats that may have been directed towards Dr. Adshade. When Dr. Adshade made her inflammatory tweet on Monday, the IFC issued an internal statement to chapter presidents condemning any sort of threats and ensured the message was relayed to chapters' membership. We do not know where these alleged threats are coming from and have no proof to support that they are coming from a UBC fraternity member,” said Moallemi in an email to The Ubyssey.
After investigating the response to Adshade’s tweet, UBC Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri affirmed the university’s “commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom,” citing UBC’s Statement on Academic Freedom.
“Many have debated the validity of the faculty member’s views. Her ability to express her views and the ability of others to debate those views is critical to the proper functioning of a university,” wrote Szeri in a statement to The Ubyssey.
He added that the university has been hosting the ceremony since 1951 and all community members are welcome to take part.
“Students have been represented formally by the Alma Matter Society but the ceremony provides the opportunity for all faculty, staff, students and members of the on and off-campus community to participate. Members of fraternities are not excluded from the opportunity to pay their respects,” he wrote.
But Adshade worries that fraternities are not held to account for the way women are treated at their events.
“I don't think that people realize that almost every single day I'm told stories by women on this campus ... about their experiences with members of the fraternity,” said Adshade.
According to Adshade, one of her students wrote a supportive comment on the initial thread. The student later deleted her comment and account for her own safety.
“The responses that she received from men on her comment made her fear for her life. Literally made her fear for her life,” said Adshade.
She worries that the angry responses to her tweet will discourage others from speaking out on campus.
“This is something that should worry everybody, right? Because I think that people are entitled to make this the place they want it to be and if people's voices are silenced, because they're afraid for their own safety, how is that ever going to happen?” said Adshade.
“I'm way more concerned for what this event means for dialogue on the UBC campus that I am about myself.”