Letters

What will I wake up to next?

It is just past midnight on a Tuesday night and I have work early in the morning. Yet here I am sitting in my room scared to death of what I might wake up to. This is the same room that just over a week ago I sat in excited for the weekend to come. I would be going straight from my Friday night lecture to meet up with my team for Vet’s Tour. This was something I had only heard stories of from all of my friends that got to compete the year before me and this was something that made me so excited for this bar crawl to come. But now the excitement is gone and is replaced with regret because a night that I held near and dear to my heart will forever be ruined.

As a student leader and as a woman, I know how important and how mandatory consent is. Everything that I personally did at this event I asked to do, everything that was done to me was something I consented to and to me, that’s how it seemed to go for everyone. No one on my team completed the challenges they didn’t want to do and when people said no, I heard understanding and they backed off. I am sorry if that is not the case for everyone but in my mind and in my eyes, I saw a room full of people that were ready to face the challenge.

I am not someone who is overly confident with my body, in fact, I went for runs everyday the week before Vet’s thinking that that would change something. It didn’t of course but when I got there I realized that that didn’t even matter anymore. I went into this tour saying that there was no possibility that my clothes would be coming off at any of the stages of this challenge, but alas, when I got there I realized that that would not be the case. It was a friendly and welcoming environment and as said to us by the judges at the beginning of the night, it was a safe space.

But my safe space was ruined by La Rotonde yesterday. I went into this event under the impression that the people that knew I participated were the people that I decided to tell myself, which is the only reason why I will be posting this anonymously. We spoke an oath that day on the university campus. We consented to have our phone’s smashed if they came out during the event. Yet somehow, a reporter was able to get through all of that and just let it all seem worthless. There were curtains for a reason. There were doors for a reason. But yet somehow these boundaries weren’t a clear enough message that what happened at Vet’s Tour, stays at Vet’s Tour.

I can take the media portraying this day as a mess and I can understand how they could see that from all of the false rumours that were published in the La Rotonde article. But that is not the Vet’s Tour that I participated in. Yes, I told people I participated because for me it was not a secret and now those people who I did tell are coming back at me saying that I was wrong for doing what I did. But wait? It wasn’t wrong when I told you a few weeks ago what I was doing, so why would I believe that to be true when a week ago that wasn’t even your truth? And you slut shaming me for doing something you knew very well I was doing, is that not peer pressure in a way? Are you not trying to peer pressure me into believing I did something wrong? Is it peer pressure or is it just my turn to have my mind changed because of false facts and accusations? Is this really the bandwagon that I should be forced to jump onto?

These are the facts: NO, I did not have sex because I felt forced to. NO, I did not get any piercings. YES, I did eat a shawarma as fast as humanly possible. And finally, YES, I was proud to do all of the tasks I took part in.

There was no challenge to have sex with judges. There was no outlined rule that inhibited people to leave when they felt uncomfortable. It is 2016 this year and, yes, maybe in 2003, when this event started, the rape culture at the University of Ottawa was different, but so were a lot of other things. For instance, in 2003 I was six and an innocent little girl, but I am not that anymore, nor should I be expected to be. I should be allowed to do what I please in a private and legal event if I please to do so. I am tired of sitting here and being told to keep my mouth shut because frankly, I like to talk and I like to defend the things and people that I care about.

To those fellow participants of the tour this year and any other year, my condolences for feeling outraged or guilty for something that you had never felt guilty for.

To those who got quoted in La Rotonde for feeling uncomfortable at this event, I apologize.

But I will not apologize for having a great time with great friends at an event that I personally believe you participate in because of you are proud of your body and your sexuality. That is why I participated and to those who also did, I draw you to ask yourself, why did you?

And another question that I am still pondering is, why do I feel so wrong for doing something that never felt more right?

Fourth year U of O student, Vet’s Tour participant (anonymous submission)

The proud lion’s mane has been shaved off

As many of you on Facebook have noticed, many people, not just those at the University of Ottawa are sharing an article entitled “ Vet’s Tour: It’s Not Peer-Pressure, It’s Just Your Turn” and an editorial entitled “Le villain secret de la politique étudiante” from La Rotonde. I see many “anger” reactions and many people sharing the article with misrepresentative captions. With the theme of sharing stories, let me share with you a story of my own:

It’s a Friday evening and you’re very nervous, but incredibly excited. You’re nervous because your brand new underwear might be a bit too tight and lift your love handles too much for your liking. You’re nervous that the people around you may judge you for not having a Kendal Jenner/Ryan Reynolds body. But most of all, you’re feeling excited. Excited enough to ignore the nerves. Enough that you’re able to walk into the first venue. Enough that you agree to kiss the first person that asks you. Finally, those nerves go away. You are feeling liberated. You feel free and sexy enough to take off your shirt. And to your shock, no one laughs. No one points to your raised love handles. No one makes any derogatory comments. You realize that you are all in this together. That you are all vulnerable with your insecurities and that you are all exposed to one another. You begin to realize that the person who you were kissing isn’t expecting more. That when they do ask you to continue, they gracefully accept your refusal and move on. You feel great knowing that you get to decide what you do and do not do. Then as the music plays, as the atmosphere feels more liberating, you now feel sexy. You feel in control of your body. You feel liberated. You feel free!

Now, keep feeling these emotions. The confidence. The sexiness. The freedom. Remember these feelings as you keep reading and try to empathize with having those blissful feelings taken away.

Now, here’s how I felt Monday morning.

Violated. This is how I felt and still feel after reading La Rotonde’s article about Vet’s Tour. I felt, and still feel, as if my private actions were slapped on the deli counter to be weighed, evaluated, and judged by the unwanted prying eyes of a butcher. Vet’s Tour, to me, was a positive experience: a true expression of my body, sexuality, and soul. I was able to express myself in, what I considered to be a safe and judgement free environment. After that evening, I don’t think I’ve ever felt sexier and more confident. To give some context, I’ve always had body image issues and have had difficulty feeling any comfort in my own skin. So to be walking around in a sexy pair of underwear in front of a group of people was probably the most confident I’ve ever felt: the proud lion with his luscious mane walking confidently in front of his Pride.

The journalist’s article and the Editor-in-Chief’s editorial brought me back to those days of crying in front of mirrors… of being ashamed of my sexual desires… of hating my skin. To claim that how I expressed my body is “disgusting” makes me feel as if I’m being slut shamed. I understand that not everyone wishes to participate in this sort of event, and initially I myself had my reservations. But to explore one’s sexuality in such a way and better understand my body is an amazing experience. An experience I cherished, but now try to forget.

To have this associated with rape culture is a gross misrepresentation of the event. To mistake sexual expression with rape culture is incorrect.

One does not practice rape culture by kissing a consenting partner.

One does not practice rape culture by consensually letting someone touch your body.

One does not practice rape culture by knowing what you signed up for.

“It promotes rape culture because the people that are there don’t necessarily know what they’re getting into,” Mehdi said, interviewed by CBC news.

When asked to participate in awkward or uncomfortable actions, I responded with “no thank you.” And you would never believe how they reacted to my rejection. They said, “Alright, cool. Enjoy the rest of your night.” I know this response would shock those at La Rotonde.

Furthermore, I spent most of my evening with my group and we always expressed explicit, crystal clear, “YES, I would fucking love to!” CONSENT.

As a survivor of sexual violence, I am angry.

I am angry with my aggressors.

I am angry that I let myself be angry with my aggressors.

I am angry that I’ve been so angry for so long.

I am angry that my anger and fear made me repress many sexual urges and resulted in many unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Even though I feel all of this anger, my most dominant emotion is rage.

I am enraged that an incredibly fun, open, and consensual event such as Vet’s Tour is even on the same radar as my previous traumas. To equate consent and rape disgusts me. To have La Rotonde suggest that experiences I share with many other survivors are even slightly equal to what has happened at this event is misrepresentative of rape culture. Vet’s Tour gave me confidence in my body, which they have now taken away. La Rotonde should not have used their power as a media outlet to misrepresent such an event and misrepresent what I did with my body.

They spoke on my behalf and deemed me a victim, when realistically, I deemed myself empowered and stronger. I deemed myself the leader and sole monarch of my body and sexuality. But now, I am simply a peasant and my crown has been taken away and placed on a journalist’s head.  

What I find the most disturbing of all is that there was someone at this event who was watching me.

An omnipresent Big Brother figure who was there to watch my every move. Watch my every action and decision. Report what I did with my body.

Someone from La Rotonde was there as a creeper to sell my body without my consent. To make my comrades and I porn stars without compensation.

A voyeur, there to prostitute my sex life for the pleasure of their readership.

“*La Rotonde était présente lors des évènements décrits”. – reads a footnote of La Rotonde’s article “ Vet’s Tour: It’s Not Peer-Pressure, It’s Just Your Turn”

Initially, this event gave me a great story. One I would tell when drinking wine with my partner and other couples in a kitchen. One that I got to tell at future diner parties and reminisce about my undergrad. This gave me all the confidence in the world.

Now I feel disgust when looking in mirrors, having lost all confidence in my body and now cringe at any future mention of this event.

Lastly, I would like to thank biased and inaccurate editorials for taking all of that away from many others and myself. The proud lion’s mane has been shaved off. The meat has been looked at, weighed by the butcher, thrown in the garbage, and told “This piece meat is no good”.  

—Participant in the 2016 Vet’s Tour event (anonymous submission to the Fulcrum).

A consensual and healthy night of sexual exploration

This year I did things that that a year ago I would have never thought I would have. I participated in a naked pyramid, I did a naked interpretative dance of osmosis, and many other challenges. I loved every minute of it. This year I was a participant in the pubs crawl dubbed “Vet’s Tour.” I was told that this would be a bar crawl with events, some sexual, that would not be for the brave of heart. I would do things that were shocking, hilarious, and downright weird.

All members of my team, including the ones that hadn’t been informed of the specific events, knew what they were getting into. They all consented to the activities. We had members who were single for a while and some that had just gotten out of relationships. We all agreed on what we felt comfortable doing and where our limits stood.

All teams started out very PG, a few drinking challenges and some time to read over the list of events. It was at this point that everyone in the room should have known what they were getting into. There was full disclosure on what students would be awarded points for, no surprises. Then it turned into the pub crawl I had heard so much about. We were led upstairs to a bar that was exclusive to only the teams, judges, and two bartenders. There were people having fun and doing their challenges, this was the general theme for the next two bars. An atmosphere of sexual openness and fun clouded everyone.

The version of the night portrayed in La Rotonde’s article came as a sincere shock to me. I feel their depiction of the rape culture of the night was inaccurate and insulting to actual cases of sexual violence. The cage rattling journalism produced by the author states that the events of the night were unhealthy sexual activity, but what right does the author have to state what I and the participants are allowed to do with our bodies. This was a consensual and healthy night of sexual exploration which was allowed me to open my eyes to beauty of the human body. I am deeply saddened  the SSA has decided to cancel the event for future years because both my team and myself were excited to partake again next year.

As for the hate mail and the racist comments that the author has received, even if I do not agree with your article or journalism style, I am sorry you have had to receive these messages. I promise you that these are not the opinions of the myself or the majority.

—Participant in the 2016 Vet’s Tour event (anonymous submission to the Fulcrum).

Denial of rape culture

When you type “rape culture” into Google, one of the first suggestions that show up is that it doesn’t exist. That means there’s a fairly common shared opinion that our society is free of beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviours that may trivialize or encourage rape.

The denial of rape culture’s existence is by itself one of the daily examples of rape culture, and incidentally a case of voluntary blindness. It’s like systemic racism, denying it increases it. As an analogy, if you have cancer and deny its existence it won’t disappear, the cancer will only grow and progress, and you’ll probably die. There’s more than enough research, evidence, and arguments on rape culture in a society where we have anti-vaxxers, chemtrails believers, and people convinced that the Earth is flat.

The last observable trend in rape culture denial is a rhetorical strategy that invokes kink-shaming or celebration of sexual emancipation and exploration. Of course, such rhetoric ignores that consensual sexual activities happen in environments where the safety of the participants is not threatened, where consent should be total, where consent can be revoked at any time, where half-consent is not consent, where consent under coercion or threat is not consent. That type of rhetoric was used in two anonymous letters recently sent to the Fulcrum to discredit La Rotonde’s investigation on the Vet’s Tour.

The Fulcrum was irresponsible and unprofessional by publishing anonymous letters which defended the Vet’s Tour. In professional journalism, it is very rare to publish anonymous letters. Most newspapers simply refuse to do it, and those who may accept will do it in very exceptional situations. Publishing anonymous letters and using anonymous sources are not the same thing.

Anonymous sources can be used in investigative reports where the journalist builds a context around the testimony  and the information brought by the source will be confirmed or simply considered a version if such verification is impossible. In La Rotonde’s investigation, the anonymous source is not the only source. That source mentions someone kissed her by force and touched her genital area without her consent. We’re not talking about rape culture here, we’re talking about actual sexual assault. Rape culture is being perpetuated by publishing anonymous letters saying that it wasn’t that bad. The exceptional decision to publish anonymous letters, not only needs verifications, but should be done in the public interest where not many options are available. Where is the public interest in this case?

Pascale testified she was sexually assaulted in La Rotonde’s investigation, how is she supposed to feel after those publications? How about other survivors? Those letters are basically telling them that it’s their fault, that they should’ve known what the Vet’s Tour is about while at the same time they deny what the Vet’s Tour is about.

—Hamdi Souissi, Ph.D student in sociology at the U of O.

Signing a waiver does not mean people signed over their bodies

It seems like in this day and age anything can be justified if you try hard enough. Sophist inspired white washing is all the rage, and all that needs to be done to examine that claim is go to any of your favourite news stories and scroll down to the comment section below. Today, however, is the first time I have seen someone try to whitewash something so clearly wrong in a letter to the editor because of their personal experience.

First off, to all of those who did participate in Vet’s Tour and did not feel victimized or in any way assaulted: good for you. It is great that you felt comfortable. That does not mean everyone present felt like you. It is so self-centered and egotistical to believe that just because you had a positive experience that everyone had one too. Saying that you received consent from others does not mean you necessarily asked for consent from others, and possibly your actions hurt someone.

Sexual liberation is one thing, taking advantage of people and using them for your own personal pleasure is another. That liberation means joint respect – respect for both person’s consenting bodies. I hear your interruption now – “Of course not! I always asked for consent, and I received it every time”. Mhm. So, you are telling me consent can be given if you have had 20 shots of whiskey in a row and proceeded to stumble back to your guide to award you more points? This is the exact opposite of consent. This is creating an environment where inhibitions can be put aside, and then would seem everyone can put aside their clothing and just have fun. I am sure Brock Turner would agree with you, and say alcohol makes everything consensual.

I write this to you to help you see your ignorant views. You see, I too participated in two Vet’s Tours, and both times I had a fun experience that was safe and I was in no way violated. That does not mean it was that way for everyone. I have known three friends who were violated. Three friends who were touched and grabbed on the dance floors while just trying to enjoy themselves. Wearing the tee-shirt is not a ticket to grab my crotch. Being in a bar full of naked people does not have the right for people to immediately try to kiss me. Signing a waiver does not mean people signed over their bodies. My friend’s experiences were absolutely horrid, with one having to punch off an assaulter. Where were the judges? Where were the guides for the groups? They were most likely drunk off their asses, in a washroom stall engaging in vanilla missionary sex.

That leaves me to my last counter-point against your whole flawed argument – kink is in no way shamed in the La Rotonde article. Disgusting acts are. If your thing is having a donut hanging on some penis, go right ahead. I don’t want to watch you do it. Eating pubic hair? Oh so kinky, nothing gets me wetter than the taste of hair. Whipping your dick out at a McD’s? Grow up. You are protecting acts that humiliate people. You are protecting acts that provide the perfect opportunity for predators to harm people. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM ON CAMPUS. The fact that student politicians think this is right is beyond reason. Guiding and protecting our first years as they enter this scary and wondrous place is their primary goal, and right now their “private behaviour” is utterly vile.

If public officials of this country were found to be operating an orgy club where women could easily be violated and sexually assaulted, they would quickly find themselves without a job. I hope the university administration makes the same hold true for all members of Federated Bodies, and has a full inquiry into this kind of behavior.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my daddy kink with my partner. I hope your kinks do not lead you into a place where you could be harmed like my friend was. No one deserves that. As for the rest of the Fulcrum readers – La Rotonde is doing what it is supposed to be doing: reporting the news. The news might not be what people want to hear, but these actions are wrong. So far, the only original coverage I have seen of the Fulcrum has been these horrid illogical letters. I guess that makes the french publication on campus the only news publication on campus.

—Fourth-year U of O student (anonymous submission to the Fulcrum).

The SSA failed to represent and serve all science students

Reactions to the Vet’s Tour have focused principally on the experiences of participants or on critiques of rape culture. In my opinion, the role of the Science Students’ Association (SSA) as the organizer has not been adequately discussed.

The SSA constitution outlines an organization that strives “to create a positive and inclusive community for all science students,” and “to promote the mutual interest of all students in the Faculty of Science.” The SSA exists to help all science students to have a “successful and enjoyable” experience.

Organizing a private, sexualized pub crawl seems so antithetical to the SSA’s mandate as to be near beyond belief. I find it impossible to justify the SSA’s sponsorship of this event that does nothing to represent the students of the faculty, or to assist them as a collective socially, professionally, or academically.

I expect transparency from my student association. While I do not object to the private, consensual practice of the acts described in the tour, I do object to the sponsorship of the SSA. I expect the SSA to publicly publish its events and to clearly communicate its activities. Despite now distancing itself from the event in light of this week’s backlash, organizing an invitation-only, confidential pub crawl has been an abuse of my trust in the SSA to represent and serve all science students.

—David Schlachter, undergraduate student in the U of O Faculty of Science.

Sex is not “disgraceful,” “shocking,” or “shameful”

I have always been told to pick my battles, to realize when it is worth it to put up a fight and when it is worth it to simply save my energy for something more important. This past week, I have been struggling with so much frustration about the Vet’s Tour reports, that when I finally decided to speak out about it, I did not know what to say. I could not put my anger into words.

Since Monday, I have received constant emails from family and friends sharing links to various news stories about the “naked pub-crawl” at the University of Ottawa. All these emails were accompanied by messages of pure outrage that something like this could happen on “my campus I sat at my computer, hovering over the reply button, wanting desperately to share my point of view, but scared to death of being judged for what I did that night.

And then I realized: I didn’t do anything wrong.

Despite what you might have read from Mehdi’s article, we all had a choice that night. While La Rotonde painted the event as a naked Hunger Games in which everyone had to be nude against their will, the reality was, what we did was voluntary. We were under no obligation to do anything that made us feel unsafe or uncomfortable, including take our clothes off. In fact, there were members on my team who chose to leave their clothes on (as did many other people), even though they were fully aware weeks in advance that the night would contain Game of Thrones level nudity. And our team respected those members’ decision to do so, without question and without judgment.

Mehdi’s article vastly exaggerates the element of peer pressure at that night’s event. In her eyes, every girl that night was a victim of sexual violence, and that is hugely problematic. I was the victim of a sexual assault in my first year at university. When that boy took my pants off and penetrated me when I was blackout—that was sexual violence. When I met a cool guy at Vet’s Tour and we both consented to oral sex—that was not sexual violence. We consented. And yet, many believe I should be reprimanded for my actions.

I got verbal consent to perform oral sex on a boy in private. So my question is, when did Mehdi get consent to (1) take pictures of participants (even though, for our privacy and safety, the judges strictly outlawed cellphones and pictures) and (2) broadcast those photos for the world to see. A blurred face can only do so much. Mehdi cannot preach about the importance of consent when she violated those individuals’ privacy without their go-ahead.

Above all, what truly angers me about this whole story is the public’s reaction to sex. What happened at Vet’s Tour has been described as “disgraceful,” “shocking,” and “shameful,” among other things. I almost forgot it was 2016 when I read Mehdi’s reaction to the night. How she was dumbfounded that a group of hormone-fuelled 20-somethings would hook-up with each other; how disgusted she was that people would dare do body shots off each other.

I grew up believing I should not be ashamed of my body and that I should explore my sexuality. According to the La Rotonde article, however, that is not the case. God forbid I love my body enough to prance around in my underwear. God forbid I allow another human being to see my bare breasts. God forbid I want to share a kiss with someone who wants to kiss me.

Mehdi’s article has not done anything to prevent sexual violence on campus. All it has done is slut-shame a group of students who wanted to explore their sexuality. What that article has done is set the clock back a century to when sex was considered a disgraceful, disgusting act.

I refuse to be seen as a victim because I was a female participant of Vet’s Tour. I also refuse to be seen as a victimizer. I did nothing wrong that night, nor did my teammates.

Do not punish or shame us for wanting to explore our sexuality. Do not believe everything La Rotonde has written about Vet’s Tour. They may have had an informant “infiltrate” the event, but I was there, too. I am just as informed as Mehdi on the events of that night, and I can tell you, Vet’s Tour does not promote rape culture.

—Participant in the 2016 Vet’s Tour event (anonymous submission to the Fulcrum).

Editor’s note: All identities of the anonymous sources who have submitted letters have been verified privately by the Fulcrum.