• Denise Paglinawan

Students reject Ryerson University name change: poll

Survey shows 43 per cent of the respondents say “no” to renaming the university

More than 40 per cent of Ryerson students do not support removing Egerton Ryerson’s name and renaming the university, a new poll of Ryerson University students suggests.

The poll conducted by journalism students shows twice as many or 43 per cent of students respond “no” to the name change idea compared to 22 per cent who approve. Another 34.9 per cent said they were unsure.

Camryn Harlick, the outgoing vice-president equity of the Ryerson Students’ Union, says the poll results are disheartening but not surprising.

“I think many students are unaware of the colonial legacy Egerton Ryerson played and the profound impacts he had in creating Canada’s largest genocide and the ongoing genocide that is still happening today because of his actions,” Harlick, who is Haudenosaunee and Metis, said in an interview.

Harlick said they are not shocked non-Indigenous students “think their opinion on this should matter more than the indigenous students who have asked for these changes.”

Last year, the student union and the Indigenous Students Association led a campaign demanding the removal of Egerton Ryerson’s statue from Gould Street and to change the name of the university.

“Change the name of Ryerson University to a name that does not celebrate a man who supported and created the structures of colonial genocide,” the Facebook post said.

They also asked the university to put a visible and accessible plaque on Gould Street written and drafted with Indigenous students.

In response to the controversy, the university said a plaque acknowledging Egerton Ryerson’s history will be added to the statue. The plaque was unveiled during the Truth and Reconciliation consultation report in January.

Implications of the poll

Harlick said they do not think the poll results will affect the campaign to change the school’s name.

The poll only shows how much more education needs to happen on who Egerton is, said Harlick.

“I can’t imagine anybody standing in support of the statue after learning about the atrocities that happened in residential schools,” they said.

The next step for Indigenous students

Harlick said Indigenous students are planning further action in response to the university’s answer to their demands.

“We are in the process of planning something but it is top secret so keep an eye out in the future,” Harlick said.

Meanwhile, Karolina Surowiec, the incoming Ryerson Students’ Union vice-president equity, said students she spoke with are worried about the reputation of Ryerson and the value of their degrees if the university pursues a name change.

“If the students want the name of the university changed, then that is what we will work towards,” Surowiec said. “But when I spoke with the students, most of them wanted the name of the university to remain the same.”

She said the student union will need to come up with bilateral solutions a larger part of the student body will support. “This situation has no single solution,” she said.

First-year Ryerson School of Journalism students surveyed 1,235 Ryerson University students on campus between March 9 and 13. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20; it may be larger for subgroups.

© Denise Paglinawan 2020

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