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Changing A Culture of Violence in Environments of Excellence | A Call for Radical Change

Updated: Jun 21

Ambition comes at a cost.

The pursuit of professional advancement requires a certain degree of personal sacrifice.

That personal sacrifice (even in 2024), will largely differ, depending on your gender.

This was one of the first cardinal lessons, an unspoken rule of success, that I learned as a first-year MBA candidate at Rotman’s School of Management. 

Whether the setting was formal or informal, what was expected of me was influenced by the male gaze of my peers, the male gaze of the faculty, and the male gaze of the administrators within the University of Toronto’s leading school of management.

Within the first few weeks, while attending a party with peers in my first year class, a second year student decided that I was “desirable” enough to join him at another party. 

At first, he politely extended an invitation. He mentioned that he would gladly drive me and a few other peers to this next location. I noticed that he had had several drinks and declined, not thinking it would be a big deal. But it was. He insisted that I join him at the next party he had in mind. I was sure that I was clear and concise with my first refusal, but thought maybe in his state, he hadn’t picked up that there was no room for negotiation. So I declined again — he wasn’t taking no for an answer. I had to explicitly draw to his attention that I was not comfortable riding in a vehicle with him, given the amount of alcohol he had consumed, and declined a third time. The protests continued, and finally, realizing that I was not going to cave under pressure as he had expected - he bitterly and resentfully withdrew.

That was not a one-off experience. 

An alarming number, though not all, of our male counterparts in the MBA program had the same expectations. Not only within my graduating year, but also in the graduating years preceding and following. Men whose sense of entitlement balked and bristled at the slightest refusal and rejection. 

This translated as many women being subject to varying levels of violence. Women who were not acknowledged, who were shamed, and very frequently silenced. After all, we had the privilege of being part of this renown school — surely, we had the wherewithal to recognize that speaking out against the violence wasn’t worth risking our professional standing, and career progression?

Therein lies the internalized misogyny that has manifested as a culture and history of violence against women within the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. 

An internalized narrative that each of us recognized, to varying degrees, and resisted, to no avail. 

Women represented roughly 40% of the student body within Rotman’s class of 2018, but as far as I’m aware were the target of 100% of the sexual violence that took place on campus. This violence ranged from sexual harassment, sexual aggression, to sexual assault. All within my graduating class, which was 350 students, with a couple of students dropping out before entering the second year. In my social network alone, I knew six women who endured varying degrees of sexual violence from our male counterparts. 

if we include the violence I experienced, even prior to the extreme and excessive violence I’ve now endured from a celebrated and deeply respected faculty member, Scott Rutherford, that’s 2% of the student body, 5% of the female population at Rotman, and that’s only:

  1. Those with whom I knew personally; and

  2. Those who spoke out. 

To my knowledge, some of these attacks were reported to the school administration.

Yet these female students were expected to sit in classes, participate in group discussions, and graduate with the peers who had degraded, demeaned, and abused them. There was no conception of expelling a student for such a normalized condition within the program, after all, “boys will be boys.” The responsibility for our safety as women, and subsequent discomfort, rested solely on our shoulders. Despite being the minority, and being vulnerable to attacks in the various programs and events often hosted by Rotman’s School of Management (orientation weeks, various overnight excusions). The brand carried more weight than our individual traumas - women were silenced at every turn.

In an already, time-intensive, extremely competitive program, one of my female colleagues had sought out therapy to try and support her own healing from the sexual assault she had experienced from our peer. While she shared her experience with me, I deeply regret not having known who the aggressor was, until closer to graduation. While I was horrified, I felt helpless. I didn’t realize to what extent she was forced to share a peer group with him to save face, suffering silently, while this peer was celebrated and his reputation remained intact throughout the length of the program. 

Due to my own ignorance, even I had maintained a close relationship with this peer, not realizing that he was the one who had assaulted her — because she did what I am now refusing to do - she protected his name.

While the extremity of my circumstance does not allow me that luxury, I understand why she did.

Within the first thirty-sixty days in the full-time program at Rotman, I had already signed my first petition to have the Ethics professor removed from faculty, for making inappropriate, insulting, demeaning, and degrading comments about the female student body.

There was no expectation that he would be disciplined. But as a collective, we got together to try and establish some disciplinary recourse.

We, as women and men sensitized to the gravity of the situation, were expected to accommodate his “old ways” and to give him grace for his social inappropriateness and blatant sexism. 

We did not. 

But action, and acknowledgement from the Rotman administration required roughly 100 signatures.

35% of the student body needed to speak up, before any action was taken.

And this action was taken slowly, begrudgingly, and resentfully.

There was no public apology.

There was no commitment to ensuring that every member of the student body was treated with equivalent respect, grace, and dignity. 

There was resentment. 

Resentment that the women in our graduating class didn’t align to the gender norms that suited the misogynistic narratives that some of the men carried. The internalized misogyny that served as the undertone and the undercurrent to the governance policy, and enforcement of the code of conduct within Rotman’s School of Management. By that I mean:

  1. This normalized and internalized misogyny was present when I had to correct the (paid) speaker during our MBA pre-program, who was telling the female students that to properly prepare for professional interviews, we were required to straighten our hair to be presentable. Having worked in HR, and as a woman who proudly wears my own curly hair into every setting, I needed to correct her multiple times in this class, and was later on thanked by my peers for intervening

  2. This normalized and internalized misogyny was present, when the second-year (specifically male) students in charge of alcohol distribution at social gatherings, made a choice to ensure that there was more alcohol and less juice for the females who were requesting drinks, in order to ensure that we were compliant and pliable to their sexual appetites

  3. This normalized and internalized misogyny that is present now, when I speak up about the violence that I’m experiencing at the hands of the faculty at Rotman’s School of Management, to then be met with the immediate response that I’m expected to suffer in silence, to ensure that I am not risking my own livelihood and/or limiting my career prospects. That in the end, speaking out about violence that every person involved has confirmed to be deadly — will only hurt me in the long run

  4. This is the normalized and internalized misogyny that is the reason why so many women who suffer violence at the hands of men, endure the violence in silence, go on the run, and are subsequently murdered.

This normalized and internalized misogyny is why I have, for the last four years, suffered violence in silence, and went on the run. But I would rather deconstruct the narrative than allow myself to suffer the ultimate fate that I’m currently having to come to terms with. I will not die, for Rotman’s School of Managements’ internalized misogyny to live on.

How do I know it continues to thrive?

  1. None of the male students who victimized female students were expelled in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 graduating years. 

  2. Some of these male students, were later celebrated by the MBA program, and spotlighted for their professional advancements upon graduation.

  3. The male faculty members who have been repeatedly inappropriate and explicitly derogatory towards women have been historically protected. 

And the women who have been targeted for violence, whether reported or otherwise, have been and continue to be silenced, shamed, and disregarded.

It is after all, the cost of entry, to be in the leading business school of Canada, sitting among some of the the best and the brightest leaders of tomorrow. Even if some of those future leaders have been repeatedly violent towards women and thereby represent a threat to any environment that speaks to “the diversity of the U of T community is our strength” and celebrating “inclusive excellence.” 

The University of Toronto expects us to believe that it has fostered an environment of belonging, a welcoming and global community that supports equity, diversity and inclusion for all, when one of its leading faculty members has unabashedly threatened to sexual assault and mutilate my body without any fear of reproach, for four years strong.

As I read the words on the University of Toronto’s website, the words that speak to, “transforming society through ingenuity and the resolve of its faculty, students, alumni and supporters.” Personal experience demonstrates that these words are nothing but platitudes. 

Too many women, who ignorantly believed that the culture aligned to this philosophy have paid that cost. 

The women who participate, and have participated, in the Rotman’s School of Management program who experience violence and are silenced. For the sake of their careers, women have been forced to participate and graduate with their abusers and suffer their sexual trauma in isolation.

This internalized, toxic, and misogynistic narrative is why its faculty, students, alumni and supporters within the program are desensitized to the violence that the women experience. It is the cost that we women have paid, to have the privilege of rubbing shoulders with researchers who are critically acclaimed, but have no sense of bodily autonomy of the opposite gender. 

Men who abuse their positions of power, privilege, and access to coerce and/or force the object of their sexual aggression to comply, submit, or to be punished.

Such is the culture that I’ve been exposed to, and am now currently still suffering the effects of- despite relocating to different countries, multiple times. 

To imagine that my career trajectory, social participation, goals, dreams, and ambitions all thrown into flux - because I refused the sexual demands of a powerful man, Scott Rutherford, at the Rotman School of Management and senior leader at McKinsey & Co Canada, and broke the cardinal rule and spoke up, and am speaking out about, now.

Of the 660,000 students that have graduated at the University of Toronto - I wonder how many of them look like me?

More specifically, I wonder how many of the total population of Rotman School of Management graduates look like me? Or are a woman like me? And have equally suffered violence at the hands of peers, faculty, and alumni to the extent that I have?

I have survived four years of violence. Needing to be protected in programs for women escaping violence, being stalked, terrorized, threatened and intimidated across several countries… because of how this toxic, misogynistic culture of silence has enabled and nourished a sense of entitlement to my body, to my thoughts, and to my progress - a sense of entitlement that was never anyone’s to claim, but mine.

I will not be silenced.

My personal track record of excellence will not be taken away from me, simply because I stood my ground and survived a violence not many women could.

To be clear, the issue of violence isn’t solely on the shoulders of this professor and his misguided and violent intentions - I blame the pervasive culture of violence at University of Toronto’s, Rotman’s School of Management that bore him.

It’s time for radical change. There will be radical change.


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