On January 19, students from McGill’s Religious Studies Undergraduate Society (RSUS) published an open letter addressed to the School of Religious Studies condemning Professor Douglas Farrow. Dr. Farrow, a professor in the School of Religious Studies, has published a number of works condemning same-sex marriage and according to RS students has taught and promoted anti-LGBTQ+ ideas in his classes.
According to the letter, Dr. Farrow has published a number of articles espousing “bigoted views” on gender and sexuality. Notably, in his book Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage, Farrow refers to same-sex marriage as a “casualty” that has reduced the institutions of marriage and family. Additionally, in 2017, students at McGill protested on behalf of the trans community an event called “Gender Mainstreaming and Transgender” at which he was a panelist. At this event, Farrow discussed a webpage facilitated by himself called “Gender Mainstreaming.” RSUS commented that this website presented transphobic views and “discussed gender transition with outrageous comments” that are unfounded.
According to the RSUS, McGill not only allows but promotes Dr. Farrow’s work – several of his publications are currently on display in the Birks Building lobby. “It makes members of the LGBTQ+ community feel unsafe in and marginalized by the SRS and severely undermines the inclusivity of both the SRS and McGill at large,” writes the RSUS, in regards to Farrow’s publications.
In all four of his syllabi for the 2019-2020 academic year, the letter continues, Dr. Farrow addresses McGill’s Preferred First Name Policy (PFNP) and states that “[no] one is required to adopt views, claims, or linguistic forms with which they disagree.” Although Farrow has the right to disagree with PFNP, as the RSUS explained, he cannot blatantly disregard a student’s rights to freely express gender identity nor can he circumvent McGill policy. “Names and pronouns are not preferred, they are required,” the letter reads.
Students from the RSUS are particularly concerned with the role that Farrow plays in the School of Religious Studies; three out of the four courses taught by him are required for the Bachelor of Theology (B. Th.) program. These mandatory classes are exclusively taught by Farrow. The RSUS raises concern regarding this in the letter: “The fact that Dr. Farrow teaches three mandatory classes is of great concern to the student body, as we would hope that both McGill and the SRS prioritize the wellbeing of their marginalized students.”
RSUS representatives also raised concerns about the course material in Dr. Farrow’s classes: “Dr. Farrow provides his students with a very particular perspective both on Christian theology and Christian understanding of gender and sexuality, which not only prevents a diverse learning environment, but also makes numerous students feel victimized by many of the views expressed by Dr. Farrow.”
“We want to stress that the letter does not attempt to encroach on Professor Farrow’s academic freedom, as he is fully allowed to express these opinions in his literature and in his free time,” comments Mateya Burney, VP Finance of the RSUS. In an interview with the Daily, she explained that “this becomes problematic when: 1. Students have attempted to debate/critique these opinions, and have received no room for discussion or critical analysis from the professor 2. A professor chooses to make these views part of his classroom discourse and does not engage in debate or conversation. Then students should not be forced to take this class to graduate.”
In the letter, RSUS representatives assert that in forcing Bachelor of Theology students to take classes taught by Farrow, LGBTQ+ students are forced into an environment that “denies the dignity of their identity and personhood.” For both those who identify as LGBTQ+ and for those exploring their own sexual and/or gender identity, Farrow’s “discriminatory language can be traumatic.”
“We do not argue that Professor Farrow is entitled to his own opinions,” says Burney, “It is a problem, however, when these opinions are taught as fact and there is no room for criticism.”
RSUS students are calling on the School of Religious Studies to provide students greater flexibility in their course choice by assigning additional professors to the mandatory classes that are currently taught exclusively by Dr. Farrow, and remove his homophobic and transphobic publications from the Birks building lobby.
The University has given no formal response to the letter, according to Burney. “Just as Dr. Farrow has the right to freedom of speech,” wrote the RSUS, “students have the right to a safe and inclusive learning environment.”