Is McGill really progressive?

The need for radicalism

Universities are places of higher learning, knowledge, and debate. They also tend to be dominated by left wing politics. At least that’s what I was told before I arrived at McGill. When I came to this University, I wasn’t let down, at first. Institutions like Safer Spaces: Allies on Campus, QPIRG, and the diversity university brings were quite new to me. As such, I was impressed. On its surface, McGill seems to be quite a progressive school. But after a year and a half as a student it has become quite clear that this is hardly the case.
In terms of allowing people on campus to feel comfortable with who they are, McGill students do a decent job; at least from the view of a straight white male. From my interactions, most students seem to display tolerance and acceptance, some out of genuine belief, others likely out of fear for the punishment or social stigma that comes from breaking Safe Space. In this sense, McGill isn’t bad because those who aren’t tolerant of others should feel uncomfortable expressing their views on campus. Yet this is hardly progressive – it is merely what should be the standard. And judging by the public perception of most universities across Canada, this is the standard – despite the cries of the privileged students who feel inconvenienced by the  fact that they need to think twice about what they say out of concern for offending someone.
Beyond this bare minimum of decency and humanity, though, the nature of McGill students is quite detestable. By virtue of McGill’s high academic ranking, a great deal of McGill students, simply by being McGill students,  think that they are superior to their peers at other universities. From my interactions, I’ve seen that many McGill students are also wealthy or have access to greater financial resources than students at other universities may have. These students believe that because they, or their ancestors, have accomplished something in the liberal capitalist society, all others would be able to do so as well, if only they had the talent or the work ethic to do so. What these individuals fail to recognize is that this is a great myth of capitalism, and if this system ensured financial success for all who worked hard or had talent, it could not function. McGill students are a bright bunch, but despite their inflated egos and sense of accomplishment, most are not particularly special and are at McGill largely due to the financial well-being of their parents. This is not to say that McGill students aren’t talented, but rather that many are at McGill simply due to their financial background. Essentially, many McGill students were born on third base and believe they hit a triple.
This belief, which is prevalent in “elite” universities, is what fuels the reactive nature of many McGill students, especially those who are wealthy. There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-off, yet it seems as if most McGill students who are well-off have bought into the capitalist status quo entirely. McGill students may encourage reforms to the capitalist system, but they’ll rarely call for it to be replaced. Even the few students who have fought for basic reforms such as free education, with pretty standard tactics such as sit-ins, have been labelled as “radicals,” “thugs,” and “lunatics.”
While these students aren’t thugs, they’re the closest thing to radicals McGill has. And this is a compliment, not a criticism. Universities should be radical. The status quo of our inadequate society should not be safe in universities. Universities should be pushing new “radical” ideas into the mainstream with the goal of eventually having them embraced. University publications should also be part of this process, and lately, The Daily has been lacking, as it has been filled with conservative articles defending capitalism, tuition increases, and the police on November 10. However, university should not be a high priced assembly line, building the perfect product to be exported into the cruel nine-to-five world upon graduation. If you are attending university for this reason, fine, but your journey to the posh law firm or business shouldn’t be shielded from the factory of injustice surrounding it.
University students have a long history of leading and participating in various struggles and forms of activism. McGill seems to have lost this fighting, radical spirit. As the possibility of an upcoming general student strike against tuition increases, the student body has a chance to become progressive and embody the role that universities should play as institutions serving the public interest. I can only hope that this opportunity to become a truly progressive student body will not be squandered.

Balaclava Discourse is a column written by Davide Mastracci on the structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in society. It appears every other Monday in commentary. You can email him at