University of Ottawa pub crawl deserves more than a template response

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It’s easy to publicly condemn something once you’ve been caught doing it — but uOttawa’s Science Students’ Association (SSA) shouldn’t have needed such a public wakeup call.  

An editor of the University of Ottawa’s French student newspaper, Yasmine Mehdi, recently reported details about an invitation-only pub crawl organized by the SSA, including that students earned points by participating in sexual acts.

An article was written about the annual event in La Rotonde. Following its publication and national interest, both the University and the SSA issued statements condemning the event, while Mehdi received threats for the article.

It’s hard to believe the SSA didn’t know how far the pub crawl had gone — according to Mehdi it’s been happening under their watch for some time. If a student association says they “fully and unconditionally condemn” sexual violence, while also overseeing a pub crawl perpetuating that harmful culture, their condemnation is difficult to believe.  

The acts described in the article promote rape culture by incentivizing sexual activity, making it invitation-only so students are singled out and pressured to perform certain acts, all while having the judges involved in many of the acts and adding alcohol to the mix.

Publicly condemning the event isn’t enough. It’s on student leaders to question why things like this happen in the first place. It’s on the larger student body to encourage students like Mehdi — who investigate incidents like this — rather than vilify them.

The overwhelmingly negative backlash against Mehdi says a lot about the culture as well. Like most whistleblowers, the anger directed at her is an indication of how deeply rooted the issue is. While Mehdi printing a private conversation she overheard in a bathroom is ethically questionable, the response to her actions focused on personal abuse and not debating ethics.

As for the University’s response, it’s nothing that hasn’t been heard before.

When issues of rape culture arise on campuses, university administrations often respond with the same few words. While a public condemnation is needed, a generalized statement like this one isn’t worth much in practice.

Queen’s is responding to incidents of hazing at TAPS with a ‘special committee’ to look into the internal culture, an attempt to deal with something that impacts campus culture with more than just a standard condemnation.   

Student leaders work closely with administration. When student leaders’ behaviour is in direct conflict with their expected leadership roles — and for an extended period of time — it seems like the administration may have failed to teach a lesson somewhere along the line.

On the other hand, the onus may not fall on the University at all. As student leaders, the SSA have a wealth of lost trust to earn back.

Acts that normalize sexual assault deserve more than a template response and a promise to not do it again.

Journal Editorial Board 

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