Our commitment to a respectful and safe learning environment for all
Many of you may be aware of a recent disturbing exchange between a Faculty of Science instructor and one of our students in Myanmar. The language used by the instructor in the posted exchange was insensitive, unprofessional, lacked empathy, and insulted the student.
I am writing this note to communicate what we have done to address this incident, as well as the steps we are taking to ensure a respectful and safe learning environment for all.
Let me begin by reiterating that the Faculty of Science has zero tolerance for disrespectful or abusive behaviour toward any member of our community. Upon learning of the exchange, we acted immediately. The student was quickly contacted and assured that accommodations would be made, and alternative teaching arrangements were made for the remainder of the impacted course. York International was informed to proactively determine the scope and extent of affected Myanmar students. York’s central communications office was also notified and issued a statement to keep our larger community informed.
While deeply disturbed by the instructor’s remarks, the impacted student was satisfied that the issue was handled promptly and appropriately by both the Faculty and the University. That said, our actions to ensure a respectful and safe learning environment do not stop with this incident. We must work to foster this environment with education, communication, and action.
In terms of education, I have received many constructive ideas surrounding this incident and what we can do to ensure a culture of mutual respect and caring within our Faculty. For example, Dr. Stephen Watson, Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, pointed out that York University’s 2020-2025 University Academic Plan calls for us to "amplify our purposeful efforts to foster dialogue, respect, kindness, empathy…”.
To invite discussion and dialogue on this important topic, the following notions surrounding professors’ interactions with students have been raised. We believe that faculty members in the Faculty of Science should:
- Be respectful, professional, and polite in all communications with students.
- Respond to all inquiries from students in a timely manner.
- Act in accordance with the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion laid out by the University when interacting with students.
- Create an open, flexible, and encouraging learning environment.
- Encourage student success by designing courses to meet the capabilities and needs of students.
As students, professors, and staff, we are all equals. We should strive, at all times, to be kind, polite, collegial, and to support and encourage each other.
How we treat each other matters. It matters while we are here, learning and working together, and in terms of what students take away from their experience in our Faculty as they head out into the world beyond York.
I am sharing this message across our community, including with Faculty Council, student groups, and staff. I invite each of you to participate in this discussion, and to share this communication with your peers. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your suggestions, comments, and concerns. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Last but not least, I wish to underscore the importance of action. As noted, we will continue to take immediate action to address any issues surrounding mistreatment of students. This type of behaviour goes against all we stand for as a community, and it will not be tolerated.
My sincere wish is that we can learn from this incident. When we constantly remind ourselves of who we are, what we do, and why we do it, the Faculty of Science will be an inclusive, welcoming, and inspiring home for all.
Dean, Faculty of Science