After a weeklong whirlwind controversy sparked by philanthropist Suzanne Rogers posting personal photos with former President Donald Trump, Ryerson University and its School of Fashion have addressed the situation for a second time.
Rogers’ family has donated millions of dollars to the Toronto university and its fashion school is named for Rogers. That was made possible in 2016 through a $1 million donation from the Edward and Suzanne Rogers Foundation. Her tie to the school prompted many students and other critics to revolt after Rogers posted photos from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago on Instagram last weekend. Her husband, Edward, who is chairman of Rogers Communications, the Rogers Bank and the Toronto Blue Jays, was also in one of the photographs with Trump with a caption that read “A special way to end the night.”
In addition to her philanthropy, Rogers has wooed well-known fashion designers to head north for her annual “Suzanne Rogers Presents” event, which has honored the likes of Victoria Beckham, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen and Oscar de la Renta. The galas have raised $3.7 million for children’s charities since 2010.
Given the Rogers’ collective reach in media, fashion and sports, the social media backlash was fast and furious.
But Ryerson’s School of Fashion also felt the heat on social media after a post that criticized Rogers was deleted from its social media. That was replaced with a post that read the university does not believe that “social media is the appropriate platform to judge the actions of others.”
Rogers issued a statement Tuesday noting that she has always believed in equality, diversity, inclusiveness and respect for all. The photo was posted “without considering the false assumptions and implications that would be made about my personal beliefs,” she wrote.
She said she regretted her actions caused anyone to question her values.
In the joint statement posted on Instagram on Friday, the school said that its response to Rogers’ post “was an effort to support Ryerson students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community, while creating a space for open dialogue about themes of social justice. The statement reflected the School of Fashion’s guiding principles, values and beliefs.”
The statement continued, “The School of Fashion and Ryerson University are equally committed to supporting equity-seeking groups, to creating and maintaining a culture that echoes these values, and to ensuring education is a vital force for social change. Under no circumstances do Ryerson University and the School of Fashion tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, fatphobia and other forms of discrimination.”
Both Ryerson and the School of Fashion “agree that it is important to engage in constructive conversations.” Both entities “look forward to engaging in dialogue about these important issues and to continuing the conversation.”
Representatives at Ryerson said no one would be able to discuss the situation with Rogers and did not respond when asked if any public forums are planned to discuss these issues. A representative also did not comment when asked if the university was considering renaming any of the buildings named for the Rogers.
Interview requests that were sent to Suzanne Rogers Presents were not acknowledged.
Friday’s joint statement didn’t quell the social media critics, with one posting “where she feigned ignorance like she doesn’t know what Trump is all about. Hers (sic) husband owns a media empire, so surely she’s had access to the news.” Another posted, “don’t forget the fact that she never apologizes.”
Earlier in the week the Rogers’ decision to travel during the pandemic was also called into question. A representative at Rogers Communications did not respond immediately to a request for comment Friday.
While many have piled on the criticism this week, Robyn Urback took a different track in an opinion piece for The Toronto Globe and Mail titled “Suzanne Rogers’ Trump Photo was Tone-deaf. But it’s Hardly a Major Scandal.”