Hundreds of Ryerson professors sign letter demanding university change its name

·3 min read
A statue of Egerton Ryerson lies on the grounds of the university that bears his name after being toppled on Jun. 6, 2021.   (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A statue of Egerton Ryerson lies on the grounds of the university that bears his name after being toppled on Jun. 6, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Hundreds of professors and other faculty members at Ryerson University in Toronto have signed a letter demanding that the school change its name — just a day after Egerton Ryerson's statue was toppled on campus.

About 345 professors, including three associate deans, signed a letter saying that "now is the time to stop commemorating Ryerson." It's one of several petitions and letters making similar demands coming out of the university community; open letters have been written by the university's staff, its Indigenous faculty and its Indigenous students.

"Today, there remains no cover or excuse to turn away from the truth about the namesake of our university," the faculty letter reads. "Every Indigenous family in this country has been touched by Indian Residential Schools and our namesake's legacy as an architect of the residential school system is the reason we must act now as faculty members at this institution."

On Sunday, the statue of Egerton Ryerson at the university was toppled following a rally — called Bring the Children Home — that saw up to 1,000 people attend and march from Queen's Park to Gould Street in Toronto.

The rally was held in response to the reported discovery of the remains of as many as 215 Indigenous children buried on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Egerton Ryerson is considered one of the primary architects of Canada's residential school system and in recent years staff and students have been calling for the removal of his statue and for the university to change its name.

Members of Ryerson University's faculty have signed a letter demanding the university change its name in response to growing controversy over Egerton Ryerson's legacy.
Members of Ryerson University's faculty have signed a letter demanding the university change its name in response to growing controversy over Egerton Ryerson's legacy.(Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"The time for debate is over," the letter reads. "Symbols of oppression and genocide that are diametrically opposed to our stated values of equity, diversity and inclusion have no place in our community."

Almost 200 staff members have also signed their own letter demanding the same, as have Indigenous faculty and students.

The faculty letter ends by calling on the university to "permanently remove the Egerton Ryerson statue" and to "announce a commitment to rename the university."

In a statement released after Sunday's incident, Ryerson University president and vice chancellor Mohamed Lachemi said "the statue will not be restored or replaced."

Task force considering name change, statue removal

In response to growing controversy over Egerton Ryerson's place in the institution, the university established the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force and gave it a mandate to reconsider the university's name, Egerton Ryerson's legacy and other commemorative elements on campus.

"Their work now is more important than ever," Lachemi wrote.

The Task Force also released a statement after the statue was toppled.

"With the statue removed, there may be regrets that the many students, faculty, staff and community members who have worked tirelessly towards its removal were not offered the opportunity to witness the moment it came down," co-chairs Joanne Dallaire and Catherine Ellis wrote.

The task force has worked with staff, faculty and students since it was launched in November 2020 and began meeting in January 2021.

Recommendations from the group to the university's president will be developed and submitted by fall 2021. Until then, the task force will "thoroughly review all of the submissions from our engagement period while we continue to follow the new statements, petitions, and calls for actions as they come forward," says the group's statement.

Some students, staff and faculty members have begun to refer to the university as "X University" in official communications.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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