Were Student Reporters Barred from Race Forum for Being White or Being Journalists (or Both)?

Race, a supposedly public meeting, barred student journalists and a college newspaper piece have all aligned to form a powder keg of a controversy triggering headlines and debate in Canada and the U.S.

Last week, a pair of journalism students at Toronto’s Ryerson University were ordered to leave a campus forum for racialized and marginalized students before it began. As The Ryersonian student newspaper explains, the event’s organizer objected to their presence “because they were not victims of racialization.”

Instead, first-year students Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope identified themselves as journalists. Or at least, they confirmed they were planning to report on the event as part of a journalism class assignment requiring students to attend a public meeting. But the organizer apparently told them they were not welcome at this particular meeting, in part to ensure other attendees felt as comfortable as possible engaging in an open conversation about racially sensitive situations and issues.

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The fracas that has followed seems to center on the following questions/inconsistencies: Were the j-students kicked out because they are white? Or was it because they are journalists? Or is this all just a big misunderstanding over a private gathering unintentionally advertised as public? But, in that case, shouldn’t meetings like this be open and inclusive of all students?

Regardless, the Ryersonian article first reporting the student journalists’ restriction — which in the headline focuses more on the race component than the journalism angle — quickly went viral. It has logged more than 100,000 hits and counting online and is spurring “significant publicity” and “[a] round of public furor” in Canada.

The most blatant irony of the brouhaha: The student group behind the event publicly asserts its opposition to “all forms of racism.” In that respect, as Knope tells the Ryersonian, “It seemed really ironic to me that the meeting was about racialization and they were prohibiting certain people from entering.”

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