UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a follow up statement from the university and a public statement from the YFS.
A York instructor in the department of mathematics and statistics is currently facing backlash from the York community after sending a set of “insensitive” and “unprofessional” emails to an international student in response to the latter requesting a midterm deferral.
Screenshots of the email thread were initially uploaded to Reddit on Thursday, March 18 before making their way to other York-related social media accounts.
The international student is seen requesting for their midterm test to be deferred or transferred on to their final exam, allegedly due to a regime-induced internet blackout. The professor apparently refused to grant the deferral, but granted the percentage transfer onto the final exam, followed by, “Even the Internet came down with CoViD19 (sic)?”
In the screenshots, the international student is seen responding: “No Professor. The internet did not come down with covid 19. There was a military coup where I am living and almost 200 protestors have been shot uptil (sic) now. The regime has decided to shut off all communications by tomorrow.”
The student is referring to the recent and ongoing violent protests against the military coup that overtook the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar on February 1 — during which more than 200 people have been killed, according to CTV News.
However, the instructor is seen in the screenshots responding: “By the way, your remarks (both related to this course and to your home country) made me wonder how you understand reality. People don’t get shot for just protesting, but for a lot deeper reasons.”
Excalibur reached out to the student in Myanmar, but they have asked to remain unidentified. Excalibur also cannot currently corroborate the identity of the instructor in question.
In the wake of the emails, a York alumna reached out to Excalibur “extremely shocked and saddened” by this conduct. “The student sought accommodations due to the tension, violence, and lack of internet in Myanmar, and was insulted and refused assistance,” their statement reads.
“This treatment of students CANNOT be condoned or accepted by an institution that supposedly stands for diversity and respect of others, particularly in the context of the increasing racism directed toward people of colour in North America. This professor needs to be held accountable. Many students are furious,” they add.
York community members also took to social media to express their outrage.
First-year biology student Emily Lashkhia claims that, based on previous experiences with the instructor in question, she believes that the instructor’s intentions are not usually “to hurt” and that “it’s his humour, but he doesn’t understand it’s broken. I don’t think he realizes he’s affecting people because some things he says, though unusual, you could tell he’s joking.”
Lashkhia also hopes the instructor receives some time off to reflect on the situation and “learn from this.”
The York Federation of Students (YFS) released a statement today, stating: “This is not only an issue of lack of reasonable academic accommodations amidst online learning in a pandemic, but is truly indicative of the consistent discrimination that Indigenous, Black, Racialized, and International students can and do experience on our campuses.”
Students who recognized the name identified in the screenshots also took to the social media posts to share personal accounts of previously having the instructor in question as a professor, most of which seemed to have been unpleasant interactions.
International student Naqib Sarwary, who studies political science, says: “As a student from Afghanistan raised amid social and political unrest with lived experience in multiple underdeveloped countries, I stand in solidarity with the fellow student from Myanmar.”
“I think that York must train its staff on matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion and be active in protecting students’ rights. As an academic institution, York needs to first and foremost promote compassion and humanity above everything else,” Sarwary continues.
The university released a statement on March 18, ensuring the community that the actions of the instructor in question do not reflect York’s values and that they reached out to the student expressing “support for their difficult circumstance and well-being.”
CBC News reported: “The statement does not describe the specific interaction or name the professor involved. But asked by CBC News if the screenshots circulating Thursday prompted the school’s statement, Joy confirmed they did.”
However, York community members are calling for the professor’s immediate dismissal from the university. Sarwary tells Excalibur that he reached out to President and Vice Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton, hoping for an “immediate and fair investigation.”
Excalibur reached out to the Instagram account that posted the screenshots, @spottedatyork, who states, “I believe that what the professor said was absolutely unacceptable. York’s official response lacked actual action and disciplinary measures.”
Regarding disciplinary action — a common concern among the York community — Barbara Joy, chief spokesperson and director of media relations, wrote in the statement that “employment matters are confidential” but that “appropriate actions” are in place.
The statement was updated on March 19, citing that the university is “taking steps to address the matter” and “alternate arrangements for the teaching of the course have been made.”
When Excalibur asked if the university can provide more information on the disciplinary actions, Joy says: “Unfortunately I’m not able to share further details other than what is included in the statement, at this time.”
Moreover, the YFS has stated that they will be contacting York’s administration for a “more meaningful response and accountability plan.”
The professor in question could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
With files from Victoria Silman and CBC News.