Jan 29, 2014
When people ask me about my post-graduation plans, I often tell them that I’m done with school. I’m looking for a job on a midterm campaign, I tell them, and maybe I’ll head to law school somewhere down the line. But what I invariably add is that I’m not actually done with school, I’m done with McGill. For the past four years this university has been at best exasperating and at worst downright hostile. Through a mélange of inept bureaucracy, rampant grade deflation, and insufferably pretentious and hypocritical undergrads, McGill has routinely been a source of immense frustration.
While I don’t hesitate to brag about my school’s academic pedigree, or whip out the latest turn of phrase gleaned from my latest political science course pack, my praise for what will soon be my alma mater is rather forced. When pressed to elaborate on what I enjoy most about going to McGill, I often cite examples from beyond the confines of the Roddick and Milton Gates. Montreal is a wonderful city, the French immersion is invaluable, the community is warm and accepting, and my friends are among the best people I’ve ever met. However, with the exception of the latter, none of these redeeming qualities hold any extensive ties to this school. A stubbornly anglophone faculty and student-body—coupled with a general atmosphere of superiority—make McGill an island in this francophone metropolis, while the competitive nature of over 20,000 highly qualified students all vying for the same internships makes conferences an act of both preening and self-loathing.
What I have found most frustrating though is the degree of universal indifference and exclusivity that permeates nearly all aspects of McGill life. Never one to offer a helping hand, McGill’s student services are more than happy to let you drown unless you explicitly ask for a lifeline. Whether it’s fulfilling graduation requirements, applying to study abroad, or getting an appointment with student health services, McGill’s administrative and departmental offices are never forthcoming in providing students the tools they need to succeed. Rather they are hidden behind a web of paperwork, outdated and poorly organized filing systems, and scorn for what many faculty and staff see as spoiled students reliant on handholding.
Among students, McGill is lacking in a substantive and hospitable campus culture. Unwilling to coalesce around sports like many other public universities, McGillians are seemingly united only in times of divisiveness. The single largest gathering of students I’ve ever seen was the infamous 2012 Arts General Assembly, which brought together thousands of disgruntled and ideologically motivated students for six excruciating hours of caustic debate, recounts, and general vitriol—all of which failed to resolve the issue despite such a massive degree of involvement. Never have I seen a concerted effort on the part of any student organization to actively bring together and involve students with SSMU, the university, or even general social or academic issues. Although many groups will put on an air of openness and inclusivity, it’s as if McGill is one giant mixer where everyone greets each other with a closed fist.
Lastly, there is the rampant hypocrisy that characterizes much of the campus discourse. As a loud and ever-present voice for social justice and staunch opponent of human oppression, the McGill Daily is nonetheless happy to publish article after article brimming with anti-Semitic venom. Look no further than last week’s feature, which not only sought to legitimate a fringe anti-Zionist Jewish group (viewed by many Jews in the way that most Christians view the Westboro Baptist Church) but actively perpetuated grossly offensive stereotypes, such as Jews owning the media and the Israel lobby’s (imaginary) iron grip on Western political institutions.
The duplicity continues with SSMU, which for all its posturing as the sole representative of McGill’s undergraduates puts extraordinarily little effort into providing services in French. Not only is the SSMU executive routinely made up of all anglophone students, but every GA I’ve been to has lacked an English-French interpreter, has had an entirely English agenda, and has seen questions asked only in English, with no translation offered. Moreover they have never bothered to link their efforts towards preventing racist or culturally insensitive costumes at Four Floors to the larger issue of the systematic underrepresentation of people of colour and other visible minorities in the student body, faculty, and staff, despite a mandate which calls for the inclusion and acceptance of these groups.
Am I happy I went to McGill? Yes, the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met here simply don’t exist in North Carolina. Did I get a world-class education from a prestigious academic institution? Absolutely. But given this school’s blanket antagonism towards harmony and unity, I can safely say that the degree I receive this June will be my last from McGill.
Daniel Braden is the creator and curator of “McGill Memes.”
An abridged version of this article appears in the Feb. 4 issue of the Tribune.