A steady growth of online groups devoted to white students has triggered a wave of concern from Ryerson University administration and students who worry the groups are fostering racism.
Administration is investigating how university policy could apply to the groups, many of which were created by Ryerson students on the networking website Facebook.
Among the user groups are “I’m a White Minority @ a Toronto University” with more than 200 members, and “Equal Rights for Whites” with more than 150.
With posts such as “white people unite” generating uproar and a surge in national media attention, the university is facing a “sensitive and complicated issue” in an electronic age where jurisdiction is unclear, said Julia Hanigsberg, general counsel for Ryerson.
“We’re talking to other universities [. . .] because this is something we’re all facing,” said Hanigsberg. “This isn’t something that’s unique to this university, and we want to make sure we’re dealing with it in the most appropriate way.”
Muhammad Ali Jabbar, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president, said the growth of these online groups demonstrates a lack of education about anti-discrimination, and another civil rights movement may be needed to counter intolerance.
“The future looks pretty bleak when things like this are going on, and it just shows there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” he said.
Jabbar said the union can do nothing about the groups because they exist only in cyberspace.
Although no white culture groups have tried to gain club status on campus, comments online have implied students might try to do so. But they would have a “very hard time” trying to prove a white culture exists, said Nora Loreto, RSU vice-president (education).
She says many cultural groups exist for white students, including clubs for Italian and Polish students.
“So do white students have a group and a place to organize, and do they have a chance to organize on campus? Yes,” said Loreto. “Is there such a thing as white culture or have we been approached to form a white culture club? No.”
Trevor Morris, a Ryerson student and president of the new Facebook group called “Ryerson Students Against Race Based Groups,” said a “double standard” against white students is proven by RSU’s refusal to grant club status to white culture groups.
This is why he wants to gather support for the removal of all culture clubs if a club for white students is prohibited, he said.
Morris also said the media has “overreacted” because nothing racist has been said in any of the groups—but he said that doesn’t mean he agrees with everything that’s posted, referring to a comment written by an administrator of “Equal Rights for Whites,” that stated, “white people are Gods [sic] gift to the world.”
“I don’t think there’s anybody in any of these groups that actually have any hatred towards anybody,” he says.
Morris says that particular comment was probably a joke and it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Jabbar said a racism fact sheet and anti-racism training for RSU board members are currently in the works, part of a motion passed last November when the online groups first grabbed attention.