The public views made by Arjun Singh undermine scholarship goals of inclusion and equity

Senior News Editor Rachel Chen

*Content Warning: mentions of sexual assault, sexual violence, self-harm*

The political science department announced last Thursday that they will maintain their decision for student Arjun Singh to be a 2021 recipient of the David Rayside scholarship award. The decision comes after demands by the university community for a review of the department’s decision, and two petitions in favour of revoking the scholarship from Singh with a combined total of over 5,000 signatures at time of publication.

Singh allegedly made public comments online which are harmful to marginalized communities, including claims that critical race theory is “ridiculous” and that “social justice is a bad idea,” prior to receiving The David Rayside scholarship, which seeks to award efforts for “greater public understanding of social and cultural diversity and enhanced inclusion of historically marginalized populations.”

According to the department’s website, The David Rayside Scholarship requires a commitment to co-curricular activities both on campus and off, focused on promoting equity, diversity and inclusivity for “racialized minorities, women, Indigenous 

communities, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, sexual minorities.”

Singh defended his stance to The Varsity via email, stating that his arguments “are neither sexist nor racist, nor as similarly characterized.”

Each of the scholarship’s nine recipients are awarded $1,000 with consideration of financial need and academic merit and are required to provide two academic references, and a 300-word statement describing how their extra-curricular activities promote the scholarships’ aims.

The Political Science department announced on their website, that after careful review, “all decisions are based solely on the information and documentation you (the applicant) have provided.” The department further “determined that all of the scholarships were awarded in a manner that was consistent with the rules set out in the application process.”

Students have noted the public nature of Singh’s views, shared online through personal blog posts and a now deactivated Twitter account, as evidence of their allegations against him.

Singh has also received criticism for his views on sexual violence. In a 2018 blog post he claimed sexual assault survivors should instead be called accusers, arguing that sexual assault “is not a crime that always threatens the mortality of a victim” nor is it “violent in totality – like murder, torture, and terrorism.” He also argued that the use of “survivor” carries the presumption of guilt for those accused and biases the public against them. Singh has also tweeted in defense of low conviction rates for rape cases, equating conviction rates to the presumption of guilt despite evidence to the contrary.  The Department of Justice reports that 83% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and the majority of sexual assaults reported to the police do not result in a criminal conviction. 

Singh has tweeted about gender equality through violence, saying “To men/women: if someone of the other gender slaps you, don’t just stand there. Show some gender equality and give them one right back.” He further compared abortion to self-inflicted harm, tweeting that “Pro-choice activists often claim that people ‘have the right to do what they want with their bodies.’ That’s ridiculous and untrue… If you try maiming yourself, you’ll be sent to a sanatorium.” 

Singh’s public tweets have been criticized for their support of family separation, as he shared the phone numbers of both Canadian and United States immigration enforcement agencies on Twitter. 

In response to Singh’s receiving of the scholarship, two Change.org petitions began circulating online. One petition cites his online views and his behaviour in class and statements which “exclude and alienate” marginalized persons. Singh’s lawyer contacted Change.org to remove the petitions for being defamatory to their client. While the petition remains active, Change.org did remove Singh’s full name from the petitions.

Following the announcement of students and scholarship recipients in the political science department released an open letter addressed to Chair Robert Vipond, Associate Chair and Undergraduate Director Dickson Eyoh, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science Melanie Woodin. The letter asks the scholarship to be rescinded by the department, describing their personal experience with Singh and his public statements as harmful to marginalized groups.

The Arts and Science student’s union has called for increased transparency for awards processes, a review of scholarship guidelines, and a diverse selections committee within the Political Science department.

Other student groups on campus, including the Association of Political Science Students, the International Relations Students’ Society (IRSU), the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and the University of Toronto Students’ Union, have called for similar changes, while the IRSU and SCSU have asked for a review of the decision by the department.

Following the department’s announcement to maintain their decision to offer Singh the scholarship, other scholarship recipients wrote a second open letter expressing their disappointment. The open letter stated that, “taking his application at face value despite many students speaking out about his harmful behaviour in the classroom and pointing to numerous public posts that call his commitment to equity into question sets an unfortunate precedent.”

The letter further stated, “The department is effectively conveying to students that all they have to do to win this award is just say they have worked to support marginalized communities, even if their public statements create the opposite effect.” 

UofT sexual violence and harrasment support: 

A list of safety resources is available at safety.utoronto.ca

The tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre’s website is www.svpscentre.utoronto.ca

Individuals can visit the centre’s website for more information, contact details, and hours of operation. Centre staff can be reached by phone at 416-978-2266.

Locations:

  • U of T downtown Toronto campus: Gerstein Library, suite B139
  • U of T Mississauga: Davis Building, room 3094G
  • U of T Scarborough: Environmental Science and Chemistry Building, EV141

Those who have experienced sexual violence can also call Campus Police to make a report at 416-978-2222 (St. George and U of T Scarborough) or 905-569-4333 (U of T Mississauga).

After-hours support is also available at:

  • Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre (416-323-6040)
  • Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre (416-495-2400)
  • Trillium Hospital Sexual Assault Care Centre (905-848-7100)

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