Dean's message regarding supports for our community, and the importance of academic freedom and compassion

November 9, 2023

Dear OISE Community, 

Over the past few weeks, I have been in touch with members of the OISE community who have shared their pain, sadness, and grave concerns about the escalating situation in the Middle East. We are all horrified and grief-stricken by the tragic loss of lives, violence, and suffering throughout the region. 

As Dean, my foremost concern is for the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends, particularly those with personal connections to the region. I am deeply troubled by the ongoing threats being made to members of the OISE community. At OISE, we stand by our community members, and support their right to express their opinions and beliefs, their desire for justice, and their aspiration for respectful and meaningful dialogue. OISE stands against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of hatred and discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

I am especially grateful to our faculty members who have relayed expressions of concern for our Muslim and Jewish students and for all of our community members with Israeli and Palestinian ties. I have tasked our leadership team to identify existing pathways and resources that we can utilize to provide support for our community's mental health and students' financial needs as they navigate this challenging time. Please review the resources currently highlighted below. We are also actively exploring opportunities for new support initiatives. 

As my office continues to support those who have received threats or hateful messages, I also want to underscore the critical importance of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, especially within the unique context of a university setting and with attention to our shared humanity.

As a faculty of education within a larger university, our community is founded on the fundamental principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. OISE wholeheartedly upholds the rights of every member of our community to these essential principles, as enshrined in the University of Toronto's Statement of Institutional Purpose and its Statement on Freedom of Speech. These statements serve as the cornerstone upon which the University of Toronto has built its commitment to free expression. 

This commitment has three principles: 

  1. The essential purpose of the University is the pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning, and the dissemination of knowledge. This objective hinges upon the right to free expression, including the ability to critique society at large.

  1. Freedom of expression, however, carries responsibilities as well as the obligation to comply with applicable laws. Speech or actions that silence, intimidate, or stigmatize individuals or groups stand in direct opposition to free speech and the mission of the University of Toronto.

  1. In order to foster excellence, the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion must operate alongside the right to free expression. The University’s Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Excellence affirms that "excellence flourishes in an environment that embraces the broadest range of people, that helps them to achieve their full potential, [and] that facilitates the free expression of their diverse perspectives."

Our shared responsibilities and our desire for knowledge and understanding operate within this context. OISE is great because of its diversity of perspectives for research and practice, leveraging multiple voices and points of view. Different ideas and beliefs enrich the free flow of debate, leading to new discoveries, innovations, and societal progress — goals that are deeply important to each one of us here at OISE. As we strive toward these goals, I hope that we will meet each other with empathy and compassion despite our differences. And as always, I look forward to our work together for OISE as we navigate these difficult times.


Erica N. Walker 
Professor and Dean, OISE

Supports and Resources  

Student Funding:  

The Scholars and Students at Risk Award Program supports undergraduate and graduate students: 

  • Who are, or have been within the last five years, asylum-seekers or refugees anywhere in the world (regardless of status in Canada), or 
  • Whose current or proposed program of study has been impacted by changing political environments in their country of current or future study, including changes in immigration law, or 
  • Are studying on a temporary basis (e.g. exchange) at U of T during a time of conflict or political turmoil in the country in which they are registered. 

OISE Emergency Bursaries support domestic students who have applied for OSAP; however, exceptions have been occasionally made for international students. 

The SGS Emergency Grant is designed to provide short-term, immediate relief during a financial crisis and/or unexpected expenses, and is available to both domestic and international students. 

Mental Health:  

University of Toronto Grief Support Sharing Circle is an informal mutual support group, led by clinicians and campus chaplains, that provides support for students who have experienced the death of a loved one, as well as students experiencing anticipatory grief.

University of Toronto Mental Health Support Resources 

The Multi-Faith Centre has chaplains from 11 different traditions who are available for spiritual and grief support.  

OISE counseling services: Many students encounter personal, health or situational circumstances that interfere with their ability to focus on their studies. The first thing to realize is that you're not alone. Our Student Success Counsellor, Jeananne Robertson, is here to work with students who are facing personal, health, or situational circumstances that interfere with their personal well-being and academic success. 

Students also can receive 24-7 multilingual counseling support through my Student Support Program (SSP), which can be accessed by phone or via the My SSP app.

Campus Safety: 

OISE's Community Safety page connects you with tools, supports and resources offered by the University of Toronto for ensuring safety on and off-campus, including a chaperone service for traveling alone at U of T, and a check-in service for those working alone on campus. 

The Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning has compiled a list of all available resources on campus for communities in conflict and/or crisis. 


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