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Photo by Mico Mazza

This past fall, headlines jumped at the cheers at St. Mary’s University and the University of British Columbia. Sometimes I wonder for the number of these cheers that are actually reported and brought to light, how many others go under the radar. I don’t think the University of Ottawa’s 101 Week was as innocent of inappropriate cheers as most people think.

During training, guides sign onto “Bylaw 10,” enforced by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa to ensure a safe 101 Week. A clause states that cheers will not be accepted that “include offensive sexual content.” This clause isn’t there to be a fun-killer. It’s there for a reason. It’s there to make sure our 101 Week is an inclusive and safe environment for 101ers and guides alike.

I’m an exec for one of the fed bodies, and having been a 101er last year, this was my first time being on the other side of the week’s events. On the Thursday night of 101 week, we had gotten all of the first-years home safely from an arts and science night at Addiction Nightclub. The last bus of the night, the guide-only bus, apparently carries the tradition of singing cheers that are banned by this clause. It wasn’t long until most of the bus was singing “Cindy Bear,” a song by which they were amused because of its sexually explicit content.

I was nervous. I had heard this cheer before, and certain parts of it are disturbing. One line sings, “Yogi likes them young and ill, CHEO, CHEO bear.” It was 1 a.m., I was exhausted from our hectic week, and what instigated my panic attack was when the song reached, “Cindy likes them old and wrinkly, pedo, pedo bear.”

Pedophilia is one of my triggers, and I was trapped on a bus full of guides singing and laughing about the shittiest thing that has ever happened to me. I was terrified. Most people don’t realize it until someone tells them, but just like rape jokes are not funny, pedophilia jokes are equally as unfunny.

This cheer was cut short and replaced with “I Once Worked a Store In Chicago.” Again, most people think nothing of it. And again, I was trapped.

Some of the lyrics go, “A girl came into the store for butter, some butter she wanted, spread she got,” and, “A girl came into the store for some meat, some meat she wanted, porked she got.” People were unknowingly singing about a girl who goes looking for something arbitrary in a store, but instead of getting whatever it is, she gets raped.

Why is it rape? Because the song doesn’t even make an attempt to imply that it was consensual. It explicitly states that she received something sexual instead of receiving the item she was looking for.

Many of my girlfriends realize why this cheer is concerning after I’ve pointed it out to them, but for some reason, it’s a really difficult concept to explain to the guys. This worries me. But I do understand. They don’t necessarily deal with the stats—that one third of women in Canada have sexual violence in their history. And in a way, I always hope that people who don’t understand this reality will never have to.

But on that same note, I can’t even begin to express how important it is to acknowledge and respect the experiences of others and to just trust us when we tell you that these cheers and these jokes hurt. They hurt because they propagate rape culture, and they also hurt because they are triggering—they compromise our mental health and take us back to our darkest moments.

I was absolutely terrified. I felt the same sense of powerlessness when I was attacked. Here I was, on a bus of people singing and clapping about sexual violence, thinking that my attacker would be there waiting for me when I got off that bus at campus. After that, everything kind of became a blur until I was on the grass outside Café Nostalgica with some friends who were trying to help to stop my hyperventilation. I’ve had panic attacks before, but never to that extreme.

Despite that one night, I still believe 101 Week is a positive experience for most. However, future fed body guides and execs need to take more accountability for everyone’s safety, 101er or not.

Elsa Mirzaei
Second-year biomedical sciences student