Interview: Lindsay Shepherd Answers Some Questions Left Lingering by the Media

After the mayhem of Faith Goldy’s appearance at Wilfrid Laurier University, committed free-speech advocate and enemy of political correctness Lindsay Shepherd held another, much more low-key event at the Kitchener Public Library on Monday. The speaker was David Clement, a former Maxime Bernier leadership campaign spokesperson, a 2014 Libertarian Party candidate, and the external director of the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry, the new campus-based group Shepherd helped found.
As I was in the neighbourhood, I took in Clement’s enthusiastically pro open-borders talk, where he took pains to rebut some of Goldy’s claims about the dangers of immigration, and later engaged in a back and forth with Goldy herself after she showed up for the Q + A. There were no protesters disrupting this venue, likely because it wasn’t held on campus and Goldy wasn’t the speaker. Less than 50 people showed up, but it was a good opportunity to ask Shepherd some questions left unanswered by the media in their coverage of the brouhaha a few weeks ago. She requested to do the interview via email:

1. Could you provide our readers with a short explanation of why you founded the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry and what the organization’s proximate and ultimate goals are?

I founded the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI) in January 2018 along with two other WLU students who were concerned about the direction of campus culture, where safe spaces and political correctness prevail and some topics become completely taboo. Now, we are a 5-person executive team, with undergrad and grad students from both Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo. The reason we are not an approved student union club is for the simple bureaucratic reason that undergrads and grad students cannot be in the same clubs at WLU. (so it’s not like the university denied us status or anything).

We have a three-point mandate: (1) Promote intellectual curiosity, open inquiry, and freedom of expression; (2) Provide alternatives to the dominant societal narrative; and (3) Build a community of thinkers who enjoy partaking in reasonable, nuanced discussion.

We operate mostly as a speaker’s forum, but host pub nights as well.

2. Some of your tweets have been critical of WLU- have you personally faced any backlash at the university because of this?

No.
3. Before David’s talk, you mentioned that the Society is facing a “health and safety review” of sorts from Laurier. What is involved in this review, and why do you think it was launched? Are you familiar with the people conducting the review? Could the review lead to the Society being shut down or disbanded, and if so, how?

I can’t comment on this right now because we’re trying to give the university administration the benefit of the doubt and work things out. However, it is indeed an arbitrary review that no other groups, to my knowledge, are subjected to. This review will not shut LSOI down, as we will host our talks in community locations, such as public libraries, if it comes to that. However it is indeed a dismal state of affairs when a group that promotes open inquiry is pushed out from a university campus, and it does not reflect well on how we view the role of the university in society.

4. Could you tell us about the membership of the Society? How many members do you currently have, and do you have any special membership criteria?

We have about 180 members. Anyone can be a member.

5. What would you say to students such as Toby Finlay or Milas Hewson who state that they feel unsafe on campus and that they have to “justify themselves and their positions”, as they stated in this Maclean’s article? http://www.macleans.ca/lindsay-shepherd-wilfrid-laurier/

The context of that quotation was from them saying how they have become the public faces of the Laurier trans community and that puts them at risk. It’s true that being the public face of an issue puts them at risk, so I am happy that no one has ever violently confronted them throughout the controversy.

6. On a recent Canadaland podcast, (http://www.canadalandshow.com/podcast/canadian-history-x/) host Ryan McMahon interviewed former white supremacist Elisa Hategan and asked her for comment about your situation. Hategan stated that you were “being radicalized by the people around you,” such as Faith Goldy, and when asked if your story “sounded familiar” to her, given her own experience as a recruit for the Heritage Front, she said that you had “lost sight of a true centrist position.” How would you respond?

I listened to the segment. She had some interesting things to say about far-right women using their sexuality to brand the movement. But I don’t think it’s credible to say I’ve “revealed” myself. I completely understand that neo-Nazis and alt-right extremists advance their ideas by using the rhetoric of free speech. Just the other day, I watched a VICE News documentary on Race and Terror in Charlottesville, and yes, the far-right extremists used familiar arguments of free speech. However, where this becomes too quickly conflated is when people assume that if you stand up for free speech, you must have a right-wing agenda and be similar to these Charlottesville folks. It is simply not true, and not a fair or legitimate claim. When people make these claims about how free speech is a guise for neo-Nazism and white supremacism, they are pushing for extremes and not attempting to navigate middle ground, which I find unfortunate and anti-intellectual.

The reason I care about free speech is very simple: I find myself in a cultural moment where the people around me shut down or become passive when controversial subjects come up, because of the political correctness that underlines Canadian society. This stifles our ability, as human beings, to be honest and vulnerable with each other, and doesn’t let us explore our intellectual interests to the fullest.

7. Further to #6, I noticed a journalist on Twitter mentioning an interview you did with Mark Steyn where you revealed that your current boyfriend is “far-right.” What would you say to people who speculate that this is so-called evidence of yourself becoming more radicalized?
I think my centrist opinions have rubbed off on him more than his right-wing opinions have rubbed off on me. Why do people never seem to see this as a possibility?

8. In your “Goodbye To The Left” video you said there is a big difference between white supremacism and white nationalism. Why do you think it is important to have a nuanced discussion on this?

I wanted to demonstrate that as an example of how people think nuance is no longer important. White supremacism is worse than white nationalism, in my opinion. White supremacism connotes that whites are inherently superior to other races, and should dominate. White nationalists see inherent value in all ethnicities and cultures but want to keep them separate in order to preserve cultures and traditions, religions, etc. I am neither a white nationalist or white supremacist, nor will I ever be, despite some people liking to claim that I will inevitably be radicalized (I can’t help but see these claims as playing on the fact that I am a young female, as if that makes me more impressionable. Maybe it is true that young females are more impressionable as a whole, but i don’t think it’s ever fair to make sweeping character judgments about people you’ve never had a conversation with).

9. Do you believe that Faith Goldy has demonstrated sufficient knowledge and expertise to speak with authority on the topics that she planned to speak about at Laurier during her recent appearance?

Yes, I do. Also, a key part in why we chose her was because we do want to bring in speakers sometimes who are more controversial and more hard-line in their stances. As Jonathan Rauch wrote in his 1983 book Kindly Inquisitors, this energizes debate. We have to realize that some people’s role in society (Milo, Faith Goldy, Jordan Peterson but to a smaller extent because he’s seen as controversial but really isn’t) is to provoke. These provocateurs get us thinking! That is a good thing! The first provocateur-type individual I saw on TV was Camille Paglia, and I remember finding some of the things she said very objectionable — BUT, she got me thinking about things and really looking into why I think the way I do.

10. Given all of your recent appearances in the media, are you considering a career in the media as a public figure?

Probably not. I’ll be figuring out my career direction once I finish my degree.

 

11. How would you describe your relationship with your professors, peers and students after the fallout from the initial controversy?
My relationship with my students is absolutely great, but with the professors and peers in my department, not so much. But I don’t mind, as I got a huge wake-up call as to how not all professors are wise, and too many are petulant and ego-driven.

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