It has been a difficult few weeks.
In May, the latest episode in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict broke out in the Middle East, leading to concern among those in our community with relatives and friends in the region, and messages of distress from our students.
At the end of the month came the news that the remains of 215 children had been found at the site of a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. We were shocked by this appalling reminder of Canada’s long history of anti-Indigenous racism.
And this week, we were horrified by an alleged hate crime against an innocent Muslim family in London, Ontario that echoed the mass murder of Muslims here in Quebec in 2017. Understandably, members of the Muslim community, including those at McGill, are upset and angry and feel unsafe.
Also in the past few weeks, the Faculty has received messages from Jewish students and professors saying that they too feel unsafe because of rising anti-Semitic events in several cities, including Montreal.
It is against this backdrop that an emergency McGill Medical Students’ Society (MSS) General Assembly was called to debate a motion sent to all Canadian medical school student associations. The proposers of the motion advocated on behalf of the Palestinian people in a public health context. The ensuing discussion and vote led to a serious rift in the MSS membership. In the wake of the assembly, the Faculty has received an alarming number of emails and calls to the WELL Office from Jewish students who say that this situation has caused them to feel unsafe. We have also heard from students who are feeling vulnerable because of possible retribution due to Islamaphobia or for their pro-Palestinian advocacy. All the students who have reached out feel distressed, silenced and hurt.
I find this situation extremely troubling for two principal reasons.
First, it is the Faculty’s responsibility to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all of our students. When any student is made to feel vulnerable in their learning environment, especially regarding social identity, it is our duty to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion. There is no place within our Faculty for discrimination of any kind whatsoever.
Second, the MSS, whose mission is to represent all students, has become a site of division. It is time to rebuild trust and relationships, and this must occur through respectful engagement and listening among all of us. Listening is one of the physician’s most important skills. Being able to listen to someone we disagree with, to someone who is different than us, or even to someone whom we do not particularly like, is essential to the practice of medicine. When we enter the clinical environment, we are first and foremost called on to take up the cause of the patient before us. We are also called on to work together as professionals on behalf of our patients. This skill of being able to hear what someone is saying even when we do not identify with them is essential to being a good doctor and, indeed, to being a good human being. I call on each of us to now focus on listening and relationship-building.
As the body that represents all medical students, the MSS will have a critical role in helping us move forward on this renewed path. I believe the MSS is committed to listen and to represent all medical students at McGill and to ensure that all its members feel safe. I am confident that its leadership will work hard to heal the rift that has emerged. While the MSS is an independent body, the Faculty is there to help and support in any way that it can.
As Dean, I also have a central responsibility in unifying our community. I will work with other leaders from the Faculty, the University and the MSS to move through this difficult situation, to support our learners and teachers, and to implement our program to become a community that stands together against all racism and discrimination. My leadership team and I will continue to support students through our Faculty WELL Office and other channels, including all who understandably have expressed concern and distress. We will finalize our new anti-racist curriculum that will address, from the medical perspective, racism and discrimination.
As we work through this, I will focus on these priorities to ensure that all feel part of our McGill medical school community. Thank you for doing your part to make our school a place of mutual respect, of security and of compassionate care.
Dr. David Eidelman
Vice-Principal (Health Affairs)
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences