A Ryerson men's issues awareness group has reignited the debate about what discourse is acceptable on university campuses.
Universities are a natural home to political and social diversity, but when men's rights groups are the topic at hand, students seem reluctant to engage in formal discussions.
Fourth-year politics and governance student Kevin Arriola launched a new Ryerson Men's Issues Awareness Society on Reddit last month and tried to get it certified by the Ryerson Students' Union. The Ryerson Feminist Collective was quick to condemn the group, saying it "unequivocally denounces any organization that makes students feel unsafe."
The student union agreed, rejecting the initiative for the second time in two years. In its decision, the union said it was unclear whether the society would acknowledge systemic privilege and voiced concern about its association with the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), a prominent men's group affiliated with more than 15 men's issues societies on Canadian campuses, including Carleton University and McMaster University. The organization has come under scrutiny for being associated with anti-feminist groups and activists.
RSU president Andrea Bartlett said the group can appeal the union's decision.
"It's not about whether or not [men's issues] exist, and it's not our effort to try and silence them as a group," she said. "I hope the group can find a way to communicate with our equity services to ensure the concerns that some of the students have responded to."
Mr. Arriola disagrees, arguing the student union is shutting down male voices.
"Women's groups and feminist groups have brought up men's issues in the past, but it has been a small fraction of what they do, and that's because they don't have the capacity or the expertise to deal with all these issues at the same time," Mr. Arriola said.
Mr. Arriola added the society's membership has roughly 45 members, around half of whom are female. Their goal is to hold discussions – with or without official support – that will centre primarily on "masculinity and what it really means to be a man in this society."
At Queen's University last year, student protesters pushed for the school's men's issues society to be decertified, which would have denied them the ability to use campus space to hold events and lectures (the decertification efforts were unsuccessful).
In 2013, University of Toronto students also protested a lecture by University of Ottawa professor Janice Fiamengo, who argues feminism alienates men.
The Canadian Federation of Students, which represents a network of Canadian universities and colleges, amended a policy in 2013 to oppose men's rights awareness groups, stating they promote messages that claim to be of equality, but are in fact misogynist, sexist and homophobic responses to "the challenge of cis-male privilege in society."
American author Warren Farrell, who penned the controversial 1993 book The Myth of Male Power, said when men's voices aren't heard, it can have dangerous effects.
"The moment you repress speech is the moment you begin the pathway to school shootings or people exercising their power in more destructive ways," he said.
He said he doesn't believe any gender will be liberated until both men and women are involved in the conversation.
"The sexes have evolved like the tango dance. If you only change one dancer, they look awfully awkward dancing in the world," Mr. Farrell said, adding universities should be leaders in giving men a place to speak up. Instead, he believes universities emphasize women's studies and feminism without giving men a platform.
But Queen's professor Sarita Srivastava, who specializes in race and gender, said feminism challenges how people think about gender – including masculinity.
She understands why people are reluctant to allow a group advocating for men's issues.
"The men's rights debate has been verging on violence," Ms. Srivastava said, mentioning anonymous death threats made to U of T feminists in September. "Students are protesting it for a reason, because it makes them feel attacked."
That said, she doesn't think universities should be too quick to dismiss these groups.
"We don't just want to shut people down based on what we think they're going to do," she said. "Campus is about political diversity."