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McGill is a model of diversity

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Published: 15 Apr 2004

The Principal urges members of the McGill community to actively speak out against intolerance.

Message from the Principal

Dear faculty, staff and students,

McGill is a model of diversity and I take great pride in the culture of openness and tolerance that we foster at our University. Certain recent events remind us of how important it is to actively promote these qualities.

I write not only as the Principal of McGill, but also as a concerned member of the larger community, about something that is deeply troubling to me — the issue of intolerance.

The recent firebombing of a children's school library in St. Laurent was a vile and hateful act that is contrary to the values of any civilized society. One might have the impulse to view this act an isolated incident, remote from our daily lives, as such incidents are relatively rare in this country compared with other places in the world.

But as an overt expression of hatred and ignorance, the firebombing was not unique. Intolerance is all too prevalent in our world and, here at McGill, despite our many strengths as a diverse community, we are not immune. Look around our University carefully and you can see and hear the words of intolerance and prejudice.

These words are often targeted at gays or women, sometimes openly and deliberately, sometimes unintentionally. Muslims, Jews, and members of other cultural communities are all too often the object of objectionable and derogatory language.

Earlier this month, anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on the bathroom wall in the Bronfman Building. The Hillel office on Stanley Street was also vandalized during Passover. McGill security was alerted in both cases — in one case, not quickly enough, so let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that if you see graffiti, vandalism, hate literature, or offensive material of any kind, you should call security immediately at 398-3000.

As members of the University community, I believe we must respect the academic freedom of people to take positions, including those that are controversial or provocative. But at the same time, we must remember that this freedom carries responsibility.

We must not remain passive in the face of hatred, ignorance and prejudice. Words and acts of hatred and violence — big and small — are signposts on a particular road that has appeared many times throughout history. Every time a community follows this road, it experiences massive suffering. Historically, it is when a population is passive and says nothing, or does nothing, that the atrocities multiply.

We must speak out against intolerance. I believe it is the duty of each one of us to take up the responsibility that comes with freedom of thought and expression. A hateful attack on any group in our university, city, province or country is an attack on each one of us and our families.

It is essential — especially for those of us who work for the advancement of knowledge — to speak out in public, and also in private with our friends and families. The firebombing and the graffiti are not aimed at someone else's school or someone else's children — they are aimed at us.

I am asking everyone in the McGill community to actively protect the values and principles that are at the core of our University, and every enlightened society.

Heather Munroe-Blum
April 15, 2004

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