McGill University rescinds demand student apologize over Obama image

Rest easy, Canada. A university student leader who was ordered to apologize for emailing an apparently somewhat-racist image of President Barack Obama kicking down a door no longer has to apologize.

In other words, a Canadian university is sorry for making a student say sorry for something almost nobody thought he should be sorry for.

The drama that played out on the campus of Montreal's McGill University drew international attention last month when it was reported a vice-president in the students' association had been accused of perpetuating a "microaggression" by distributing an email containing an .gif (or moving image) of Obama kicking down a door following a press conference.

Brian Farnan sent the doctored image, which had originally appeared on Jay Leno’s talk show, through a listserv, probably not realizing there was any way it could cause a national controversy.

"Honestly midterms get out of here," the cheeky email read. But someone didn't see the humour. Instead, they felt the image perpetuated a stereotype depicting black men as aggressive people and filed a complaint.

Farnan released an apology stating that he "unknowingly perpetuated this living legacy and subsequently allowed a medium of (the Students' Society of McGill University's) communication to become the site of a microaggression."

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If the apology seemed forced, it is because it was. And the backlash from forcing a student leader to apologize for something so trivial was panned on campus, over the Internet and across North America.

This week, the McGill Tribute reported that the SSMU council voted to rescind their decision to force the student to apologize.

“I feel that we need to realize that we made a mistake, then move on from there,” council member Élie Lubendo told the newspaper. “Then we need to start educating students [....] and start rebuilding with equity.”

The council's decision to revoke its demand that the student apologize wasn't a concession that the email wasn't offensive, but an admission that a forced apology wasn't the best way to handle it.

Regardless, it doesn't erase the fact that the apology was made, and that it was a hilarious example of how sensitive university campuses have become.

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Earlier this year, a Memorial University professor apologized after referencing rape and suicide in a computer programming assignment in a misguided bid to keep the assignment relevant.

There have also been several complaints about sexist songs and chants sung during frosh week and during student events, several of which resulted in school-wide inquiries and investigations.

More recently, a Nova Scotia post-secondary student group launched a campaign demanding students secure "enthusiastic consent" before engaging in intercourse.

While this issue stems from a larger, more serious debate about the existence of a "rape culture" at Canadian universities, the demand for emphatic consent draws a bizarre line in the sand.

At McGill, political correction has gone berserk. As evidenced first by someone being offended at a funny image of Obama, second by the forced apology and third by the embarrassed rescinding of the demand for that apology.

There was a time when universities were places for hardened young adults set on conquering the world and doing serious things, with no time to whither and cringe over apparent issues and imagined slights.

Now? It’s a mad, mad world.

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