Volume 96, Issue 94
Thursday, March 27, 2003

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Sexual orientation hurts Western student

U of T application spurs anonymous hate mail

By Kelly Marcella
Gazette Staff


Despite praises often directed at universities for promoting tolerance and diversity, a Western student may have been the victim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, after research applications submitted to the University of Toronto prompted an anonymous response.

The Western student involved submitted applications and resumés in February, via e-mail, to individual professors in the department of physiology at U of T as well as to the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, an affiliated U of T institute.

According to the victim, an anonymous and blatantly discriminatory letter was received through the mail, which the student believes was a response to the resumés sent to U of T.

"A word of advice with regard your mention of involvement as secretary of a 'Queer Club,' this could preclude your involvement in some areas of work," the letter, unedited by The Gazette, states. "The mention of an alternative life style choice does leave one to question motives and ability to operate in a society that is somewhat homophobic.

"University life lends itself to more risque areas along with education that are not shared by all in society today... Involvement in schools, children's facilities, etc. would be limited and you would go strict scrutiny in these areas," the letter further states.

"At first I was really upset about it," said the student, who chose to remain anonymous. "It made me feel defeated. I'm doing a lot of good work with this club, but I can't get recognition because of who its members are."

"We would never, never contemplate a letter of that type – it's unacceptable and outrageous," said John Macdonald, chair of the department of physiology at U of T. "It's abhorrent. It's absolutely against all university policies."

Macdonald noted he was particularly disturbed that the letter was anonymous, as there is no recourse available to the university. "The department would never in any way accept that kind of behaviour and should something of this type happen, would seek the severest of disciplinary action."

He further explained there is no way to ascertain the number of people that may have had access to the resumés. Resumés are often sent around between co-workers with the best intentions of finding placements for students, he said.

"We have a no discrimination policy and strongly encourage diversity here," Macdonald said. "I'm really suspicious that it could even have come from here. I'm not aware of any intolerance in that respect at all."

According to Cindy Todoroff, co-ordinator of the Research Training Centre at SLRI, the letter was in no way sanctioned by the institute. Todoroff said the institute highly values students and is enthusiastic about their summer programs. "I would hate to think it could be from our institute," she said.

Todoroff explained that all resumés from students are kept in the Research Training Centre, and while they can be read by investigators and senior post-doctoral fellows, they do not leave the Centre under any circumstance.

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