By Edward Djan
After years of Ryerson community members questioning the university’s ties to Egerton Ryerson, a new task force is being created to examine the school’s namesake and recommend a course of action.
In an announcement made earlier this month via Ryerson Today, university president Mohamed Lachemi stated that the task force will hold consultation sessions to allow for input from “students, faculty, staff, partners and others” on how to proceed forward with this relationship.
Egerton Ryerson played an integral role in the creation of the residential school system in Canada. This task force is expected to look at how other universities have dealt with their memorials to controversial figures.
The decision comes after the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street was defaced multiple times during the summer, with students, faculty and community members demanding for university officials to remove the statue from campus.
Maaz Khan, an alumnus from the business technology program at Ryerson, created a petition in June calling for the removal of the statue. The petition has currently garnered almost 10,000 signatures online.
Khan said he believes the petition had an effect on the university’s decision to create a task force but that more still needs to be done.
“It makes me feel great knowing that students and alumni voices are being heard and considered,” said Khan. “I feel the president’s office needs to take bolder steps. Concrete steps need to be taken to show that Ryerson University is a progressive and inclusive university.”
“We can’t be celebrating a person who stood against all that we are fighting for today”
One of those steps, Khan suggested, is renaming the university.
“Naming a university after a person is a symbol of celebrating that person or showing that this person was a valuable member of society and history. We can’t be celebrating a person who stood against all that we are fighting for today.”
The statue has been an ongoing controversial topic on campus. In 2017, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) criticized celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederacy.
The statement was part of a project the RSU created, called Colonialism 150, to bring awareness to both the university’s and Canada’s colonial past.
On July 1, 2017, the RSU submitted Ryerson 11 demands to address Indigenous issues on campus, including the removal of the statue and for the university to change its name completely to sever ties with Egerton Ryerson.
In 2018, university officials discussed the idea of removing the statue from campus and placing it at a new location, but action was not taken.
Instead, the university, along with Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council, agreed on a plaque that would be placed beside the statue that mentions the role of Egerton Ryerson in the creation of residential schools.
In an emailed statement to The Eyeopener about the task force, Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president of equity and community inclusion, said the university will provide students with the opportunity to voice their concerns about the school’s relationship with its namesake.
“Recognizing the many challenges of the current pandemic, the university will provide a variety of ways and forums for students to offer their feedback, thoughts, and for their voices to be heard,” said Green. “Further details will be shared with the Ryerson University community soon.”
A report of the task force’s findings and recommendations will be created following the completion of their mandate, although a timeline has not yet been provided.
The individuals involved in the task force have not been finalized, according to Lachemi. It’s expected to feature experts from Ryerson and other universities, students, alumni and residents of the community.
“The task will be composed of a mix of internal and external members to Ryerson,” said Lachemi. “What we are doing now, we’re actually in consultation with a number of people just making sure we don’t miss any angle or element.”