I am often the one crowing that ‘specificity is universal!’ – stories with small and personal details can and will spark something in a larger audience, even if the specifics of their situations are different. I’m really hoping that’s true here.
One of the best decisions of my life was attending Ryerson University in downtown Toronto. It’s a diverse, urban campus with a renowned focus on innovative applied learning – lots of hands-on labs, internships, and (a key feature) plenty of meaningful engagement and interaction with legitimate players in the industry. I can draw direct lines from the people I met at Ryerson to my career today, as can thousands of my classmates and fellow alumni, including Shay Mitchell and Dan Levy and Jeremy Podeswa and the showrunners of Blindspot and Katy Keene, among many others.
The school has several buildings and schools named for the Rogers family, essentially the founders of broadcasting infrastructure in Canada – they’ve donated at least $34 million to various programs at the school over the years. It’s hard to overstate the impact of this family and name in Canada, but this story involves Suzanne Rogers, a socialite/philanthropist/long-time patron of the Canadian and global fashion industry. She has made significant donations to Ryerson’s School of Fashion, including but not limited to the Suzanne Rogers Fashion Institute, a competitive fellowship.
On Saturday, Suzanne Rogers posted a story about her weekend (since deleted, for reasons that should be obvious):
She’s the one in the white dress on the left. With her arm around Donald Trump, along with the rest of her family. (And, before it was taken down, included other stories posted from Mar-a-Lago – in other words, this isn’t an old picture.)
Understandably there were many horrified reactions: that such a prominent Canadian was socializing with a literal (probable, alleged) insurrectionist, white supremacist, and serial sexual abuser among them. The students and faculty of Ryerson’s Fashion School were horrified, obviously. A post on the School of Fashion’s Instagram account read as follows: (in pink)
As an alumni, Iâ€™m disappointed to see the university respond this way to the original post by Ryerson Fashion. It simply asked to speak to Rogers on issues, as her impact as a donor is enormous, and an association with Trump is a challenge to our values of inclusion and justice. pic.twitter.com/7rQoggAzkm— Ange Wallace (@awallacemsc) May 2, 2021
It was taken down shortly after, and replaced with this:
The same text appears as the caption on an innocuous campus shot on Ryerson’s main IG account. The chair of the Fashion school, Dr. Ben Barry, tweeted the statement with a key addendum:
These are @RyersonU words not mine.— Ben BarryðŸ’„âœ¨ðŸ‘ (@DrBenBarry) May 1, 2021
There’s been no update since Saturday, despite scores of students, faculty, and notable alumni including Schitt’s Creek creator/star Dan Levy expressing disappointment and/or disgust.
I’m writing this partly because I want people to be as outraged as I am, of course; I’m livid that an institution I’ve been so proud of actually echoed the abusive, dog-whistle language of Trump himself with lines like “we will remain curious about perspectives we do not yet know” – like it is f-cking TRUMP. There is no redeeming feature you don’t know about! It is exactly what it looks like! And it has proven they care more about protecting the feelings (i.e. money) of prominent donors than the values (and students) they claim to espouse. Like my friends, colleagues, and fellow alumni, I sent my scorching email that, I’m sure, has fallen on a pile of thousands like it, and left messages likely never to be returned. I get it – any donations I might make wouldn’t buy a vending machine, let alone a building or faculty – but at least they’ll log it.
Anyway. If you have no connection to this story beyond an involuntary shudder at having to read about him after months of blissful silence, thanks (and sorry). Maybe reading this will spark some memory of someone you know associated with the school who might complain. Maybe it reminds you of a similar situation at a school or church or other institution where the powers that be did whatever they wanted with impunity - until they didn’t. Maybe discussions of mistrust in academic institutions has you thinking about predatory teacher-turned writer Blake Bailey and, as many on social media pointed out this weekend, you’re having realizations about former teachers of your own.
If so, I’m not saying you should call them out – or that there will be any appreciable change even if you do. But in the wake of recent open-secret stories about Bailey, Scott Rudin, and others, all of whom seemed to be able to act with self-interested impunity, the very, very least we can do is let them know we see them, and that we have long, strong collective memories.