At Toronto’s Ryerson University, students majoring in one of the “ology” disciplines have to take courses from another to round out their education. It is natural to take electives that add value to your major, so many students majoring in, say, psychology or criminology, both of which prepare students for careers where an understanding of relationship dysfunction is important, will opt for a course in the sociology department called “The Sociology of Violence and the Family.”
The problem with this course—and the reason I am writing about it—is that there is only one sociology instructor, Kelly Train, teaching it. So it’s Ms Train or no course at all in domestic violence (which, by the way, is no longer referred to by that trope in scholarly circles; it has for some years been more commonly and precisely known as Intimate Partner Violence, or simply IPV, which is the trope I am accustomed to, and will use hereafter.)
Train is by numerous accounts routinely peddling ideology-based theories on subjects she is not qualified to teach, while stifling freedom of inquiry and speech in her classes. Ryerson University should have taken action on this problem a few years ago, when they became aware of it, but apparently did nothing to solve it.
So the problem continues. Ryerson needs a sharper nudge, and this is it.
Train is a hardline feminist ideologue and, as suggested above, had already emerged as a controversial figure before I glommed on to her extreme bias and the distress it is causing or has caused a number of her present and former students. By former, I don’t mean only students who completed her course and were dissatisfied with it, but those who dropped out, because they found the costs incurred to their intellectual integrity in attendance higher than any perceived benefits they might receive by staying.
In 2017, Train was featured in several campus-focused publications, including the Ryerson student newspaper, The Ryersonian, for telling a student she could not write an essay arguing that the gender wage gap is a myth. She told the then fourth-year marketing and business student, Jane Mathias, that the “myth” premise is wrong, that the student should not depend on business sources she proposed to use, as they “blame women because of their patriarchal nature,” and should only use “feminist sources.” She suggested instead that Jane write her paper on “the glass ceiling” – that is, she should write a paper arguing precisely the opposite thesis from the one she wished to pursue.
Jane’s twin sister Josephine, studying at the University of Toronto, devoted a YouTube video to the subject, titled, “The Reality is Patriarchy: Indoctrination at Ryerson University.” The video contains a screenshot of the email Train sent to Jane that confirms these allegations. Jane also provided notes on the assignment to a reporter from the Toronto Sun, which ran a story as well, in which Train notes that Ontario and Canada government websites and Statistics Canada will not be considered scholarly sources.
In her interview with The Ryersonian included in the video, Josephine asks, considering how many times the gender gap has been explained and debunked, “How can someone so high in her academic level say that it’s completely wrong? That was my biggest issue.”
I interviewed three students who have had classroom experience with Train, whom I will identify as Andrea, Sandra and Jessica, not their real names. (The vast majority of the students in this course are women.)
Andrea dropped out of Train’s course after the first week. In a telephone interview with her, she told me that she was first of all put off by Train’s affect, which she described as “intimidating” as well as coarse (“every other word was f***ing this or f***ing that”). But mainly she was offended by Train’s denigration of any discipline or research method that she did not approve of.
According to Andrea, Train’s view is that IPV is always—and only—the abuse of women by men. Highly misandric (“men are always the problem”), Train ascribes a wish to control women as inherent in men. Andrea quoted her as saying, “After this course you will realize that you have been abused, raped or mistreated at some time in your life.”
When individual students pushed back against the dogma of unilateral IPV – some gave examples of male family members or friends who had been abused by women – Train rejected them out of hand. According to Andrea, Train told the class that if anyone opted for her online course because they found her intimidating, they would get lower marks, as they would not be working as hard. Andrea, therefore, decided she would not even take Train’s online course.
Sandra, my second interviewee, is presently taking Train’s course. She described Train to me as “cold and intimidating, very intimidating and comes off that way in the very first class.” She “tears every other discipline down.” Another student reportedly told Sandra that “if you write your essays and blame it on patriarchy you’ll be fine.” When challenged, Sandra said Train “yells” to discourage further objections. Sandra said she intends to write what Train wants to hear, not because she agrees, but because “I need a good grade.”
Sandra happens to be better informed on IPV than the average student, so she knows very well that men can and do get abused by women. But when she tried to introduce statistics into the discussion, she reports that Train told her stats are of no use and anyone (in her class) who uses them is “stupid.” Train claimed that stats do not convey more nuanced forms of abuse, such as verbal, psychological and financial. Perhaps not, but women are quite as capable of these forms of abuse, and employ them at much the same rate as men. Indeed, during custody battles, false allegations of abuse—sexual abuse of children and violence against the ex-spouse—escalate dramatically.
Jessica, my third interviewee, dropped out of Train’s present course after three weeks. Jessica had taken a course previously with Train, whose subject was “family differences and diversity.” She recalled one instance in which a male student told the class his father had full custody of him because his mother had not wanted him. Jessica reported that Train’s response to him was, “Are you sure your father didn’t just want your mother to pay him child support?”
Train was here parroting the common feminist myth that when a father asks for shared parenting or full custody, the only possible motive must be financial. That a father could love his child as much as a mother conflicts with the “power and control” theory governing many radical feminists’ understanding of male-female relations. Jessica told me that the young man’s eyes filled with tears at Train’s response. The other students were “shocked, to say the least,” at Train’s baseless insensitivity. “I have never had a professor like that, never,” Jessica concluded.
Maybe you think I am being tough on Train, and that a handful of students out of hundreds isn’t a fair representation. Statistically, you’d be right (even though Train doesn’t believe in statistics herself). Train’s ratings are good. A lot of students don’t see her tough affect as threatening at all, and take it in stride. Many students liked her personality. Most said they would take the course again. Some students really gushed their admiration for her.
But a closer look reveals that it may not be Train’s erudition or Socratic skills that constitute her most compelling attribute. The course’s average score out of five for “difficulty” is 2.0. Typical remarks: “she generally grades generously”; “Marks very easy I would say and for the exams, she gives all the questions in class!”; “Make sure you listen and take notes, the book is really small so you don’t really do a lot of reading. she also gives you the test questions to help you prep”; “She seems very tough but she is a very easy marker. Don’t buy any textbooks just show up to class and take notes”; “Professor Train is by far the best prof at Ryerson. She is such an amazing lecturer, and inspires students in class discussions. If you have her as your prof consider yourself blessed” (this student rated the level of the course difficulty at “1.0”).
Put these remarks together with what my interviewees told me, and what I see is a forceful, rather charismatic personality joined to adamant views. I see someone very “generous” with her time and rewards to those who toe the party line, not so much with students expressing independent opinions. Those students cross her at their peril. So it is no great surprise that the students who love her are those who see the rote-based ease of the course and the absence of any need to think for oneself as positive aspects, and those who complain about her are students who with intellectual aspirations, eager to develop their critical thinking skills.
Train’s herd of admirers are unlikely to have inquired into Train’s scholarly credentials. It is unlikely they would have cared that her academic background in the subject of IPV is virtually nil, and her publication history the thinnest of gruel altogether. She has published six articles, none of them expressly on IPV. Her sociology department profile states Train is “currently working on a number of large projects, including a book exploring the marginalization of the voices of Sephardi, Mizrahi and Jewish women of colour within Jewish feminist thought, and a book examining the experiences of North African and Indian Jews in the Toronto Jewish Community.” No hint of any interest in IPV is evident in Train’s academic profile.
As it happens, IPV is one of my niche topics as a journalist. Over the last 20 years, I have done a great deal of research on the subject. I know the epidemiology of the phenomenon quite well. (Epidemiology, a bona fide discipline, is the science through which public health and public safety policies are formed, including health policies that favour practices that target female-specific maladies and safety risks—i.e. Epidemiology could not exist without reliable statistics, which makes Train’s resistance to statistics all the more risible.)
I would recommend that Train read a 2019 report on IPV, titled “Prevalence and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada as measured by the National Victimization Survey.” Lead authors are Alexandra Lysova of Simon Fraser University and Don Dutton, Emeritus professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. The data came from a random sample of 33,000 Canadians surveyed in the 2014 General Social Survey of Victimization, so any teacher addressing the issue of IPV should not even think about trashing the source. Or even criticizing, let alone failing, a student for depending on it as evidence for their thesis.
From its abstract:
Based on the 2014 Canadian General Social Survey on Victimization, this study examined the prevalence of victimization resulted from physical and/or sexual IPV, controlling behaviours and also consequences of IPV for both men and women in a sample representative of the Canadian population. Given the paucity of research on male victims of IPV at the national population level, this article specifically discussed the experiences of men who reported violence perpetrated by their female intimate partners. Results showed that 2.9% of men and 1.7% of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual IPV in their current relationships in the last 5 years. In addition, 35% of male and 34% of female victims of IPV experienced high controlling behaviours—the most severe type of abuse known as intimate terrorism. Moreover, 22% of male victims and 19% of female victims of IPV were found to have experienced severe physical violence along with high controlling behaviours. Although female victims significantly more often than male victims reported the injuries and short-term emotional effects of IPV (e.g., fear, depression, anger), there was no significant difference in the experience of the most long-term effects of spousal trauma—posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related symptoms.
Professor Dutton has dedicated his entire career to this issue. He has keynoted conferences on the subject all over the world. As of 2018, Dutton had over 30,000 downloads of his numerous publications. (Train’s scholarship has been cited in journals three times.) His 2006 book, Rethinking Domestic Violence, is the Ur-text for serious students of the subject, although I am sure Train has not read it or perhaps even heard of it.
I reached out to Professor Dutton, apprised him of the Ryerson situation and asked for comment. He wrote to me, “It is academically unacceptable to fail students for failing to agree with the professor and to rule out empirical studies. This Ryerson prof would fail me if I took her course.”
I of course contacted Kelly Train to ask for her side of this story. She did not respond. I also asked for comment from the Ryerson administration. Their response was a boilerplate statement that Ryerson University “is committed to creating a culture of respect and civility where all members of the community share a commitment to academic freedom, open inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge; where people feel valued and respected and treat one another with trust, dignity and respect.” No mention of Train or the fact that the allegations against her indict her of violating every single tenet in that statement.
Kelly Train is not a teacher. She is a conduit for feminist doctrine. Yet in spite of her unprofessional style and lack of academic accreditation to teach a university-level course in IPV, she earns $185,000 a year. As the old song goes, “Nice work if you can get it.” And apparently, if you’re a male-bashing, empirical-evidence suppressing, radical feminist in the department of Sociology at Ryerson University, “you can get it if you try.”