Statement on Religious and Racial Intolerance - Najma Ahmed, Philip Berger and Peeter Poldre

MAY 25, 2021

A group of senior faculty members are offering to be available to meet with any learner, faculty or staff member from the Temerty Faculty of Medicine who may feel unsafe at this time. Here is their statement with contact information at the bottom:

We are all witnesses from afar to the conflict in the Middle East: war, attacks and killings – the label does not matter. What matters is that the belligerence and accusations from these far-off lands have arrived at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. There is no hiding from it. Two groups are pitted against each other, openly, hostilely, and unsympathetically on both sides. A respected faculty member has been publicly named and criticized with a demand that she be removed from a new leadership position.

We are senior faculty members guided by a First Nations Elder. We have joined together as Muslim, Christian and Jew to plead for peace, goodwill and harmony in our medical school. We have diverse opinions, expressed privately and occasionally publicly. Yet we remain determined to keep our school safe and vibrant for learners. The firestorm that has erupted in recent days is bad, not good for anyone. It could strain relationships for years to come and do irreparable harm to the faculty’s reputation as a safe and supportive place to study.

We understand that faculty and students have a natural devotion to human rights struggles, to their ancestral homes, their homeland however they define it and to their religious or cultural communities across the world. We do not expect anyone to abandon such affinities. We three faculty members are no different. But here in Canada, most people are guests of the First Nations. We must defer to their expectations of us and their insistence on respect for their land and for each other. In the Faculty, that means ensuring that historic and nationalist grievances never cause learners to feel unsafe or threatened.

Learners and faculty members on both sides trapped in this breakdown of pedagogical cohesion have the same complaint. They both fear retribution for their allegiances and are anxious lest their identity influence their evaluations and career aspirations. Learners especially feel vulnerable in relation to those who have power over them. If nothing else, at least both sides share a common anxiety; therein may lie a way out.

We know the effects of unrestrained social media posts and communications. Each of us and our communities have been targets of unwanted attention and discrimination.

We have seen that public declarations by faculty can seep into the minds of learners and in some instances provoke a sense of insecurity and apprehension.  In the era of social media, where physicians integrate advocacy more than ever, the balance between exercising academic freedom and minimizing perceptions of bias is a complex but necessary undertaking. We believe it can be done.

All faculty must ensure that learners can be confident that their political, racial, religious or national identity will not interfere with their training. To us, that means faculty members have a singular responsibility to conduct themselves, both privately and publicly, in a fashion which does not make learners feel insecure. Faculty can do this by a careful choice of words, caution in communications, patience with learners and colleagues with different views, and by making a sincere effort to see the world through the eyes of others.

In the practice of medicine, we are trained to care for people different or other than us. Our obligation is to relieve the suffering of our friends and those with whom we disagree alike. We three each come from diverse religious and cultural traditions in which we are taught to care for, and love others. At this difficult and stressful time, we believe as faculty we can do better.

We must reach out across the current divide and do our part to de-escalate this untenable collision between groups. We must eliminate the vitriol and belligerence. We are not obliged to compromise our positions, our fidelity to our communities and to truth and justice as we see it. But we cannot and should not bring the hatred and animosity of geopolitics into the corridors of the Faculty.

 Let us work to make peace here.


Najma Ahmed:

Philip Berger:

Peeter Poldre: