University of Toronto changes name amid controversy over Canadian educator’s legacy

The former Ryerson University officially changed its name to Toronto Metropolitan University.

The school’s board of trustees voted last August to change the school’s name due to concerns about the man the institution was named for and his ties to Canada’s residential schools.

Egerton Ryerson is considered one of the main architects of the boarding school system, and in recent years staff and students have called for the university to change its name.

“I can’t think of a better name than Metropolitan University of Toronto,” President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi said in a statement. “Metropolitan is a reflection of who we have always been – an urban institution dedicated to excellence, innovation and inclusion and who we aim to be – a place where all feel welcome, seen, represented and celebrated. .”

The change was made as part of 22 recommendations made by the University’s Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) task force.

Truth and reconciliation was a key priority for the school in considering a new name, the school said in a press release, adding that officials are committed to implementing all task force recommendations. .

A statue of Egerton Ryerson, one of the architects of the residential school system, sits on university grounds after it was toppled in June 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The group’s 22 recommendations included renaming the institution, sharing materials to recognize Egerton Ryerson’s legacy, and providing more opportunities to learn about Indigenous history and relationships. indigenous-colonial.

“This is a very important moment in the history of our university as we move forward with a name that better reflects our values ​​and can take us into the future,” Lachemi said.

The statue of Egerton Ryerson that once stood on the school’s campus was toppled last year, amid the discovery of unmarked graves on the grounds of former boarding schools.

The following day, hundreds of professors and other school faculty members signed a letter demanding that the university change its name.

The university also has a new logo, as displayed on its Twitter account: a blue block containing the capital letters “TM” connected to a yellow block containing the capital letter “U”.

In an interview with CBC News, Lachemi said the name was all about unity and that the word “metropolitan” was appropriate for a downtown university.

“Metropolitan also defines our academic aspirations to provide new opportunities for collaboration, research, creative pursuits, and connection and community building,” he said.

The name change is not meant to erase history, he added, saying it’s “the start of a new chapter…as we move forward with a name that better reflects those values ​​and aspirations.”

Lachemi also explained that the committee did not choose an Indigenous name because the university needs a name “that will unite us all and not really represent a small group of people or communities within our community.” .

The name change requires an amendment to the Universities Act which must be passed by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Lachemi said the university would wait until after the election to begin that process.

Name change needed, says Indigenous student

Indigenous social work student Sarah Dennis, a member of the Nipissing First Nation near Sudbury, Ont., was part of a group that pushed for change and wrote an open letter to the president asking for it.

“I’m so grateful to everyone at Ryerson who has taken on this work,” said Dennis, who grew up in Toronto and lives in the city.

She called the name change “a great way to be an innovative and leading educational institution in Canada” and praised everyone who pushed it, “especially for all the faculty and indigenous and indigenous staff.

“They really made it happen,” she said.

The statue of Ryerson on campus was a “bone of contention” every time it passed by, Dennis said. Paying homage to “false idols” is not part of indigenous culture, she added.

“It wasn’t really great to have that statue there and pay homage to someone who represents colonialism, epistemic violence, and all the things that still contribute to systemic racism,” she said.

Dennis said she considered turning in her degree when she graduated and telling the university to give it to her when she changed her name from Ryerson, “because I don’t want the name on my diploma”.

But she said, “I’m really glad it’s already happened.”

“It shows that TMU is ready to follow through on its rhetoric. And it just makes them more responsible and attractive to future Indigenous students.”

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