More than a year ago, a Canadian academic publicly sought to promote open inquiry and freedom of expression in response to concerns Canadian universities were restricting these rights. Some students at this person’s institution protested, charging all manner of evils, and drawing all manner of far-fetched comparisons. The institution sought to administer disciplinary measures for the breach of political correctness.
You might think I’m referring to University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, the renowned proponent of free speech and author of the best-selling “12 Rules for Life,” but I’m not. There’s another Canadian doing similar, important work reverberating through the country’s academic institutions, and she’s increasingly going viral.
That person is former Wilfrid Laurier graduate student Lindsay Shepherd, who recently offered me an interview.
A Hauntingly Familiar Story
Shepherd’s battle with the liberal academic panopticon began shortly after she joined the master’s program in Cultural Analysis and Social Theory at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in September 2017. On November 1, 2017, during a first-year undergraduate class Shepherd was teaching, she showed two clips from a public Canadian television channel. The first featured Peterson, who has been an outspoken opponent of Canadian laws that mandate the use of transgender pronouns.
A heated discussion among the students followed the videos. Later, a student approached an LGBTQ support group, which then filed a complaint with the university’s Diversity and Equity Office. That office requested a meeting with Shepherd on November 8.
Shepherd secretly recorded the meeting, which turned into an interrogation. During the 40-minute circus, university staff (who acknowledged her “positionality” regarding open inquiry), accused of her having created a “toxic climate for some of the students” by playing the clips and approaching the topic neutrally.
One professor even compared the pronoun debate to discussing whether a student of color should have rights. He also called Peterson a member of the “alt-right” and compared playing a clip featuring Peterson to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos.” Peterson’s perspective was also rejected as “not valid,” as, apparently, not all perspectives are up for debate.
Shepherd released the recording to Canadian media. Not long afterward, WLU’s president, Deborah MacLatchy, apologized, as did Nathan Rambukkana, a professor and Shepherd’s academic advisor, who was the main antagonist in the meeting. MacLatchy said the meeting did not “reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires.”
Shepherd filed a lawsuit in June 2018 against the university, Rambukkana, and several others, for damages of $3.6 million, claiming “harassment, intentional infliction of nervous shock, negligence, and constructive dismissal.” Peterson also filed a lawsuit against Laurier and several university staff.
A Spokeswoman for Open Inquiry
Since the WLU disaster, Shepherd has become an active proponent for open inquiry and academic freedom. She has given numerous interviews to newspapers and television programs, as well as to YouTube channels such as “The Dave Rubin Report” and “Louder with Crowder.” She has spoken at numerous free speech events, while establishing a popular YouTube channel which now has almost 60,000 subscribers.
Her March 2018 video, “Goodbye to the Left,” in which she rejects her former self-labeling as a leftist, has been viewed almost one million times. In it, Shepherd refers to the left as “pro-censorship…victimhood culture… and moral righteousness.” Other videos have views in the hundreds of thousands. Her Twitter account is also popular, although the vast majority of her social media followers appear to be men, which she believes is because “so many women are SJWs.”
Shepherd has graduated from WLU. She writes a biweekly column for Canada-based The Post Millennial and still organizes events for the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry, the university organization she founded. WLU, by the way, has yet to file a state of defense regarding her lawsuit. Shepherd also works part-time as a court reporter, and is pregnant with her first child.
An Unlikely Conservative Ally
Shepherd was raised by her mother and grew up in an extended family where, she notes, there was an emphasis on ideas. Indeed, her mother, whom Shepherd describes as “intellectually curious and a promoter of open discussions,” has been a consistent source of support since WLU first picked this fight. It was her mother who advised Shepherd to record the conversation at WLU.
Yet Shepherd was not raised with a commitment to any particular ideology, nor any religious tradition. Perhaps even more surprising, she asserts that there is no real change in her opinion on political policy decisions — as the original secret WLU recording shows, she supports LGBTQ causes. She would still vote the same way she always has.
“I’m pro-environment, pro-gay marriage… I still believe that,” she states. But she is not interested in identity politics, and refers to “dirty strategies” employed by leftists like those who originally attacked her.
After the initial controversy, Shepherd “noticed right away” that conservatives were the most attracted to her story. She is been disappointed that people from all sides have not shown interest, although she is thankful for conservatives’ assistance. She has received some support from mainstream liberal media, but, she claims, “many Canadian academics hate me” because of their social justice disposition.
She notes, “they even accuse me of being a plant” to undermine academia — a reflection, Shepherd believes, that what now qualifies academics in universities is zealous, unquestioning dedication to “social justice, and Marxist and LGBTQ studies.”
Why Conservatives Support Shepherd
Although an unlikely alliance, conservatives must recognize the importance of joining hands with free speech heroes like Shepherd. She demonstrates an acute analytic mind, noting that free speech is always connected to deeper issues, namely the truth. Truth, she says, is related to “topics like transgenderism, and critiquing the Islamic faith or feminism.” If anyone critiques any part of the feminist agenda, she muses, that person is labeled a “woman hater” rather than engaged in a search for truth.
Reflective of her free-thought upbringing, she’s recently been influenced by Douglas Murray’s “The Strange Death of Europe,” which expresses concern with high third-world immigration levels. She is currently reading “Heretic” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali who sought asylum in Netherlands and has abandoned Islam. Shepherd’s commentary increasingly spans a diversity of topics that should appeal to conservatives similarly concerned with leftist absurdities, while helping us better understand free speech battles in our northern neighbor.
Her video on indigenous land acknowledgements in Canada, for example, a topic that will be foreign to most Americans, demonstrates how the left offers sanctimonious homages to Native Americans more to virtue-signal than to actually address historical injustices against native populations.
“I saw a position for a professor advertised that required people to have a positive relationship with elders in indigenous communities,” she observes. She also refers to a public square in Vancouver has been renamed šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square in tribute to the local Squamish language. “Probably no one who lives there, or visitors, can read or pronounce that,” says Shepherd.
It’s possible Shepherd’s explosive popularity on social media will present professional opportunities, although she is hopeful of one day pursuing a PhD and working in the academy. Yet, she acknowledges, this seems a progressively unlikely option (no pun intended) given her image among leftist academics, who would probably try to prevent her from being hired on the grounds that she “violates any university’s diversity commitment.”
For now, she’s willing to “see where the culture goes first.” And, of course, deliver a healthy, happy, first child — she’s due in 2019. Here’s to hoping she raises an intellectually curious, stubbornly courageous child, as her mother did before her.