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John Vaillant
John Vaillant

JOHN VAILLANT

There is no shortcut to healing the literary community Add to ...

As a local writer and occasional instructor, I have been following the recent events surrounding UBC’s creative writing department with alarm. Watching them unfold, I observed myself searching for more information, for a side to take, for a victim, a scapegoat, a fix.

And I have come up empty.

A few days ago, I signed Joseph Boyden’s letter under the impression that its call for clarity and openness would be a step in the right direction. Since then, I have received some reactions from young and aspiring writers who took exception to the letter’s tone, to its monolithic columns of signatories, and to my signature in particular. I observed myself again – filling with righteous irritation, yearning for everyone just to grow up, resolving to wash my hands of the whole affair, wishing I had kept my head down.

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And then I caught myself, and I really tried to feel this tragic situation, and also to hear what these young writers were saying. And my eyes filled with tears.

With that rinsing came some clarity: The issues at play here are deep and systemic, and they extend far beyond a particular professor, student or university. For this reason, they are unlikely to be resolved by independent investigations, no matter how thorough or well intended, nor by journalism, tweeting or by adding one’s name to a letter.

This situation illuminates the tips of a much larger, multipeaked iceberg. Power, ambition, alcohol, maturity and gender (I urge readers to notice how and to whom they assign these words) are just some of the peaks showing above the surface here. I am sure there are more. In any case, real damage has been done, and the longer it festers in the half light, the more toxic it risks becoming for all concerned.

I have no qualifications to recommend a solution beyond the fact that I have done a lot of therapy, and I have been involved in a number of challenging intergenerational, interracial and intercultural group processes. When I try to envision a way forward for this community – our community – I keep returning to the restorative justice model: small circles, and then a larger circle, with skilled therapist-facilitators. This, coupled with a sincere commitment from participants to summon the courage to examine, not only their pain, but their respective roles in the dynamics that led to it.

It’s a lot to ask, but I can say from experience, it’s worth it. There is no short cut to healing; the only way out is through.

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