Indigenous faculty call for Ryerson U name change and removal of statue

By Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Indigenous professors at Ryerson University asked the school Wednesday to change its name and remove a statue of Egerton Ryerson from its campus because of his role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system.

A letter co-signed by 17 professors called on the Toronto university to address concerns the Indigenous community and students have expressed for decades about the legacy of Egerton Ryerson.

The professors wrote that the recent discovery in Kamloops, B.C., of what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school has pushed the issue of the university’s name back into the forefront. 

“We, Indigenous faculty at Ryerson, sign our names to this letter, with the hope we are finally heard, both by the university community, who we ask to join this campaign, and by the university administration, who we ask to recognize that the time to remove the statue and rename our school is now,” they wrote.

The group said that enrolment among Indigenous students at the school has been flat for some time, and that will continue if the administration does not properly address the issue.

“With recent events, it is very likely that enrolment of Indigenous students will actually drop in the coming years,” the group notes. “Without Indigenous students, the faculty we’ve recruited will also move on. This is the future for a ‘Ryerson’ University.”

Last month, Indigenous students at the school called on fellow students, faculty and alumni to stop using the name “Ryerson” in their email signatures, correspondence and on their resumes to send a message, instead calling the school “X University.”

In November 2020, the university appointed the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force to complete  “detailed and expert” historical research on the life of Egerton Ryerson and his legacy.

The group was also tasked with conducting consultations with the school community on what steps the school should take to address Egerton Ryerson’s legacy and “what principles should guide commemoration-related decision-making at the university.”

Their final report will be delivered to the school’s president and board of governors this fall and it is expected to include recommended actions regarding the Egerton Ryerson statue on campus.

“It would be premature for the university to comment at this time on matters that may be included in their final report and recommendations,” the school said in a statement.

Hayden King, the executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, the school’s Indigenous-led research centre, said the discovery in Kamloops has once again shone a spotlight on the long-standing issues at Ryerson.

“While we’re dealing with our family and our friends and our relatives that are experiencing this trauma of residential schools and all the shock that accompanies this recent discovery, there’s also this sort of additional burden that I think the Indigenous community at Ryerson is carrying right now,” he said.

King, who was one of the professors who signed the letter, said the school administration has made a number of attempts over several decades to address Egerton Ryerson’s legacy and they have all fallen short, including this latest review.

“I think that the Indigenous community has been pretty unequivocal in the demand that the statue be removed and the university be renamed,” he said. “But I think it seems to a lot of us anyways that this is another attempt just to sort of circumvent that conversation. And and I think it’ll be really difficult for the university administration to continue doing that in this particular moment.”

Earlier this week, Ryerson’s school of journalism said it would  rename two of its publications ahead of the new school year, dropping any reference to the man the school is named after.

The department said in a statement it would change the name of the Ryerson Review of Journalism magazine and the Ryersonian newspaper. 

The statement came a day after a statue of Egerton Ryerson was vandalized with red paint and graffiti.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2021. 

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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