Editorial—April Cruels

April hasn’t been a good month this year.  First we had the accident in Humboldt, SK that lit up the news media across the nation, and just recently, the van attack that took place in Toronto, ON.  Both very different tragedies, one of negligence, the other, far too deliberate in nature.

What they have in common, however, is both of these tragedies prompt the question, “Were there any AU students there?”

Athabasca University is unique in that it’s unlikely there’ll ever be any sort of mass tragedy affecting AU students, but it is also unique in that any tragedy, anywhere around the world, may affect AU students.  It’s known that AU students were among those killed the Humboldt crash.  There is no information as to whether any of the victims of the van attack, that took place over almost 3 km of busy Toronto streets and sidewalks, were also AU students.

(As an aside, it should be noted that AU does offer some counselling support services to students who may feel overwhelmed by events, and AUSU provides their own Student Lifeline offering, so if the random violence does feel like it’s getting to be a little too much on top of the other stressors that come with being a distance student, do take advantage of these things. They can help.)

So while you might not be aware of it, there is a tenuous connection between any tragedy in the world and you as an AU student.  I can’t help but think that as AU works to make connecting between students, faculty, and staff easier, we’ll find that more and more of these tragedies have an effect on our education.  What happens when that student you were having a conversation with in a forum suddenly goes silent after a bombing in their general area.  How would that affect your stress?  And in a way, it’s more insidious than a campus based tragedy because the effects will be more contained, more personal.  You probably won’t even know how many students have been affected, or who they are.  It’s unlikely that any special support services will be offered to specifically deal with the fallout from some tragedy half-a-world away, so hopefully AU is designing its own services with the type of training that can handle these concerns at any time.

Meanwhile, if we look at the attack in Toronto, we find that the suspect, Alek Minassian, spoke of himself as an “incel” or an involuntary celibate.   His feelings of hatred toward himself and toward the “Chads and Staceys” of the world (or in other words, people that are able to find willing sexual partners) was no doubt increased by the subculture of “incel”s that he brought himself to.  But in some ways it seems that his anger and hatred are not as uncommon as they once were. We’re hearing more stories of young men, especially young white men, who feel increasingly disaffected and left out by society.

We need to realize that many of these men are having to deal with the idea that they may not have the same level of privilege as their fathers.  They’re having to deal with a world where women are less likely to simply step-aside or submit to their wishes, and while that’s a good thing to most people, to those who’ve grown up thinking the opposite would be their birthright, it can be a difficult pill to have to swallow.  So I think we do ourselves a disservice when we catch and vilify someone displaying these attitudes.  It is, for instance, entirely possible to be a racist or a misogynist, but not be a bad person.

And that reaction you just had is why we need to stop and think.  Remember, many of our attitudes have been taught to us by our parents and peers throughout our lives.  And that teaching can run quite deep.  But it could simply be that a person displays racism or acts in a misogynistic fashion not because they’re full of malice, but simply because they don’t know any better.  They’re ignorant. And that’s not a slur or an insult, we’re all ignorant in some aspect of our lives, if we weren’t, there’d be no need to go to AU in the first place.  There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant unless a person chooses to remain that way.

But when it comes to someone displaying ignorant attitudes and ideas about race or gender how do we typically deal with them?  Do we try to explain to them why what they’re doing is wrong and how it might be hurting people?  In honesty, do we even know for sure ourselves, or are we just so sure that it’s wrong that we don’t think about the reasons why?  And this is the disservice I think we’re doing.  By simply vilifying the racist, we’re not giving them a real chance to become anything else.  Simply telling someone that’s not something you should do doesn’t help them understand, it just puts them in a position of subservience, where, to be a good person, they must simply do what you say.  Is it any wonder that these men are getting upset by how they’re treated?

So next time you see or read of someone saying something racist or misogynist, don’t just label them and walk away. They don’t know any better.  Instead, do what little you can to help them understand how the language they’re using makes life more difficult for others.  And if they don’t learn after that, well, then, at least you tried.

Enjoy the read!