WHY I SIGNED THE LETTER
Like the majority of my women friends, I have been sexually harassed and sexually abused. I was a child, the perpetrators were men, and they were strangers. I told my parents about only one of the incidents. I don’t remember what my parents did, beyond my mother asking again and again, “Where did he touch you?” I didn’t have a name for that part of my body.
I’ve also been bullied at the university where I worked for twenty-five years. The most serious case involved a staff member who verbally attacked me in the department office and who later threatened my life. That person was a woman. Her story was different from mine, and it was important that we both were listened to.
After a lengthy review, she was banned from the campus for a specific period of time and eventually removed from her position. But because of the flawed process, the lack of any assistance from my faculty association and the slowness of the university’s response, I had a nervous breakdown, abandoning my classes in the middle of the term and taking sick leave. Only after eight months of counselling was I able to return to teaching. Two years later, I became the Chair of the Department.
I find it sad that, in this case, these are my credentials, and though I don’t like enumerating them like items on some kind of dark honour roll, such personal revelations seem necessary for any signatory of “the letter” to be heard. I have avoided defending my position except in private emails until now, because I don’t participate in social media and I don’t want to add in any way to this terrible substitute for thoughtful debate. But the character attacks and public bullying, which includes the trashing of books (remind you of anything?) and calling signatories “rape apologists,” is making me physically ill again.
I signed the letter not because I am Steven Galloway’s friend (he is an acquaintance whom I’ve met at literary events over the years), but because I believe UBC has acted in an unjust manner that has damaged both him and the complainants. Now the harm is reaching out to anyone who voices their objection to the institution’s handling of the issue. In retrospect, I wish there had been a passage in the letter that strongly stated the signatories were not dismissing the concerns of the complainants. I’m deeply sorry that so many have seen the calling of UBC to account as an attack on them. But what is gained by now lashing out at others?
I subscribe to Brainpickings Weekly. I went there today for respite. In this Sunday’s edition, the editor quotes from Parker Palmer’s 2011 Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. Palmer writes, “Rage is simply the mask that heartbreak wears. When we share the sources of our pain with each other, instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at ‘enemies,’ we heave a chance to open our hearts and connect across some of our greatest divides.” May we can connect across this one, which is the most divisive I’ve experienced since I started writing over forty years ago in the country I call home.
After all of the nasty accusations and the pressure from people I would have called my friends to remove my name from the letter, I remain a signatory. Carmen Aguirre’s recent article in The Walrus speaks at length about the letter’s intent and the dangers of not standing up for what one believes. Her eloquence, clarity and courage give me hope that it might not be too late for this inflammatory shaming and name-calling to come to an end and be replaced by reasoned and civil discourse, perhaps even by generosity and compassion for one another.