Photos courtesy of Mike Langlais (CUP)
Schools from coast to coast can learn a thing or two about frosh from the University of Ottawa.
About 200 students and professors gathered at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, N.S. on Sept. 12 to rally against sexual violence in the wake of an offensive chant that seemed to promote rape and glorify the abuse of underage girls at a frosh event headed by student leaders the previous week.
A video was posted online of more than 80 leaders and 350 students chanting, “Y is for your sister, O is for ‘oh so tight,’ U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for ‘grab that ass.’ Saint Mary’s boys, we like ‘em young.”
Jared Perry came under fire following the incident and has since resigned his post as president of the Saint Mary’s University Student Association (SMUSA). Carrigan Desjardins, the SMUSA executive who was in charge of the orientation week, also resigned from her vice-president position. The university announced that disciplinary action has been called for against two student leaders involved with the frosh week chant.
Meanwhile on the west coast, a similar incident took place at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Students at the Sauder School of Business took part in the same chant, which led to blowback from the university community and the resignations of UBC Commerce Undergraduate Society president Enzo Woo and executive member Gillian Ong. The university’s dean of commerce pulled his support for the society’s independently run frosh week events, which came to an abrupt end following the offensive chant.
At an orientation party for engineering students at Memorial University in St. John’s, Nfld., students were given plastic mugs with a sexually suggestive message that the dean of the faculty of engineering denounced as offensive and disrespectful to women. The mugs, handed out by the university’s engineering students society at the semi-annual party known as D-Day, featured a picture of a scantilyclad woman with the words, “If she’s thirsty, give her the D (day).”
Orientation events across the nation have stirred up controversy and led many to question the legitimacy of frosh weeks as a whole.
In an article in the Globe and Mail, Russell Smith called the chants at SMU and UBC “misogynistic” and said this misogyny is “only part of frosh week’s larger idiocy.”
“Frosh-week silliness, including all the chanting and all the teasing and the all-in-good-fun hazing, including ‘school spirit’ itself, is anti-intellectual: It’s against every quality that universities are supposed to instill,” Smith wrote. “No university needs ‘school spirit.’ No university needs frosh-week bonding exercises. It’s time to end the tradition.”
Others have preferred to keep the focus on the issue at hand rather than discount the helpful and educational aspects of orientation. Canadian Federation of Students chairperson Katie Marocchi said frosh weeks should be improved rather than abolished or taken over by university administration.
“I don’t think the discussion should be about whether administration should be taking over frosh week, but rather, how can we organize frosh or take these opportunities to plan them in a responsible way,” said Marocchi.
The concern is misplaced, however, since frosh weeks can actually be quite successful.
The U of O’s frosh week—known as 101 Week, partly to distance itself from the negative connotations of the term “frosh”—is the only remaining university-sanctioned, student-run frosh week in Canada that allows the consumption of alcohol. It’s run by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) along with student associations for each faculty or department and supported by university administration.
The 101 Week website states that its organizers are “well prepared for the risks that come with alcohol” and makes it clear that the event is “not a binge drinking party week.”
According to SFUO vp social Pat Marquis, who met with other student union representatives over the summer to discuss frosh, other student groups have either forfeited control of frosh events or they’re completely alcohol-free.
The system appears to be working. 101 Week is streamlined by the SFUO vp social, who must approve all events and activities organized by federated bodies and student groups. 101 Week is also governed by a set of rules outlined in Bylaw 10 of the SFUO constitution.
101 Week guides all participate in an eight-hour training session, during which they are taught the rules of 101 Week and what is and is not considered acceptable behaviour for both guides and 101ers. The SFUO also has a team of trained safety ambassadors and subsidizes further training of vp socials, which includes CPR, Smart Serve, and assistance for the visually impaired.
Minor troubles aside, 101 Week has been a considerable success since it was regrouped and rebranded in 2004.
“There’s always some bumps in the road, but this was one of the smoothest we’ve ever seen,” said Marquis.
He said the only issue the SFUO came across this year was 101ers writing dirty names on their shirts; while the 101ers may have consented to have the words written on their shirts, he said, others don’t consent to seeing them. This concern didn’t make national news this month, but Marquis said next year’s emphasis will nevertheless be to take the “dirty” aspect of 101 Week out of the picture.
“There’s always a different thing that comes up, and we try to fix it every year,” he said.
The 101 Week method of organization and supervision isn’t necessarily what has stopped U of O students from reciting rape chants; those were traditions at SMU and UBC, as much as those traditions were irresponsible, juvenile, and tasteless. But a more progressive and vigilant frosh week that prioritizes the value of an icebreaker experience for new students certainly holds an advantage over a frosh week that stumbles around in glasses tinted with tradition and so-called school spirit. The right attitude can make a huge difference in order to avoid dangerous or offensive behaviour.
The Fulcrum believes frosh or orientation weeks are a valuable part of first-year students’ introduction to university life. 101 Week at the U of O has gone off largely unhindered and will likely continue to, thanks to good focus and proper training for those in charge.
Other student federations in Canada may want to take a closer look at how they deal with frosh if they want to continue hosting it at all.