Can’t recant chant, so move forward

Our contributor argues that it’s time to address problematic culture on Canadian campuses

A chant at the Sauder School of Business Orientation Week was deemed offensive ­— the second frosh chant scandal last week.
A chant at the Sauder School of Business Orientation Week was deemed offensive ­— the second frosh chant scandal last week.
Credit: 
Supplied by CBC News

Rackeb Tesfaye , ArtSci ’13

Last week, on Canadian university campuses, one of the most anticipated events of the school year was underway: frosh week. However, this year’s Frosh Week at St. Mary’s University (SMU) is an event they probably wish could be re-done or erased.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the appalling chant led by student orientation leaders that enthusiastically supported rape.

A 15-second video, posted on Instagram, shows students on a football field shouting, “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, SMU boys we like them young.” Apparently, this is one of five chants passed down year to year through orientation leaders, a tradition that is not likely to continue.

Within hours, the media exploded with headlines about Canadian first-year students involved in a horrific chant glorifying sexual assault. This is probably around the time when some alumni, students and faculty across the country breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t their university.

But here’s the thing: this is not just a SMU problem. This is an issue that’s very much alive on campuses all across North America — they just got caught on video.

For instance, just a few days after SMU’s scandal, a student newspaper reported that students at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) commerce frosh Orientation Week took part in an almost identical cheer. This begs the question — how many other universities have yet to be caught? Furthermore, should students be leading orientation weeks if they allow chants like these?

What is so disheartening about these types of chants is how they nonchalantly and, for the most part, unconsciously, glorify and perpetuate rape culture: an extremely serious issue on university campuses.

Many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes. More than 80 per cent of rapes that occur on college and university campuses are committed by someone known to the victim. One national survey reports that four out of five undergraduate females have been victims of violence in dating relationships.

With one in four Canadian women expected to be victims of sexual assault and a severe lack of victim reporting, we have to shed a long-lasting light on this issue, and particularly on the definition of consent.

These chants and behaviour reinforce a terrible stigma that victims face at university. We cannot stand idly by and allow our friends, family and loved ones to give in to the stigma that paralyzes them from speaking out. They aren’t the ones that should feel ashamed.

Consent should never be implied or assumed, no matter how much alcohol or drugs are involved. There should be no “blurred lines.” Now can that be the theme of a chant or hit song?

These chants are intertwined with a problem that desperately needs to be untangled, but I don’t believe that expelling any of the students involved is the best solution. Sending them to sensitivity training (as SMU has said it will do), is a start, but there’s also the matter of tackling conformity and silence. Frosh week is a nerve-wracking time, with students trying to fit in and make friends, so the idea of speaking out against an organized rally I’m sure is daunting to many. I’m not condemning them, nor do I believe that individuals aren’t responsible for their behaviour. Rather, I’m pointing out that there is a deflection of blame, because those students probably don’t associate themselves with being derogatory or pro-sexual assault.

These participants are siblings, daughters and sons. Those who know them would likely defend their good character, which is why their involvement and this whole situation is dumbfounding.

At university, we face the balance of what is appropriate every day. We hear our friends inappropriately joke around, see amusing signs that are offensive (then try to be the first one to upload them on Facebook) or hear something oppressive at a party. But few ever act when they feel uncomfortable.

Drawing the line between lighthearted and unacceptable fun has become unclear to many. Calling out your friends, whom you know are good people, never crosses your mind because the thought of being ostracized stops you. We have all been culprits of this, although hopefully not to the extent of vulgar chants. It could be something on a smaller scale, like using the term “frape” (“Facebook rape”), without thinking of the implied meaning.

Queen’s is no stranger to media attention concerning the fostering of derogatory and degrading environments. Just a couple of years ago, Queen’s Bands was suspended due to inappropriate conduct and lyrics.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my frosh experience and I never felt uncomfortable with any official cheers. But, what was seen and heard during unofficial activities is another story.

Instead of fixating on the events of the past, we need to move on and use them as a catalyst for lasting change. The administration can’t be relied upon to deal with these issues alone. All students need to be the voice of change and progress. From what I’ve seen and the amazing people I met during my time at Queen’s, there’s no doubt in my mind that students are capable of running Orientation Week, no matter what critics are saying in light of recent events.

Even if we aren’t directly part of the problem, we can all be part of the solution. Let’s speak up.

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