Frosh week’s forgotten folly

Queen’s has come a long way from the cow heads, bodily fluids and abusive practices of frosh weeks gone by

Sci ’73 students fear the pit as they climb the grease pole during frosh week in 1969.
Image supplied by: Journal File Photo
Sci ’73 students fear the pit as they climb the grease pole during frosh week in 1969.

Queen’s is known for its traditions, but it’s likely less known that hazing was once one of them.

In September of 1997, incoming Queen’s students and their parents were met with an early welcome to Queen’s along Hwy. 401. Large signs reading, “Queen’s fathers say goodbye to your daughter’s virginity!” and “Thank you Queen’s parents for dropping off your virgin daughters,” caused controversy on campus and in the national media, leading to widespread criticism regarding the orientation practices.

The language surrounding orientation week continued to be problematic for the school into the late 1990s as students—some of them orientation leaders—carried signs bearing sexually suggestive slogans such as, “Go Down or Go Home” and “Don’t Forget Your Knee Pads” on move-in days.

Coverall slogans like “ASUS So Fine” and “In B.Ed before ’09 seem puritanical compared to “Lick it, slam it, suck it” and “Fuck me, suck me, chew me raw,” slogans from just over 10 years ago.

A Con-Ed cheer from the early 1990’s included the lyrics “Let me see you rub your balls,” “Let me see you jack it off” and “Let me see you pet your pussy.”

From 1920 until the 1970s, first-year women, known as “freshettes,” were banned from wearing make-up and forced to wear a card around their necks listing their age, height, weight and address so upper-year men knew how to contact them.

Public humiliation went hand

– in-hand with lesser inconveniences such as a 10 p.m. student curfew and a dating ban on male frosh until after their winter exams.

In 1928, the AMS wrote “acceptable hazing” into its constitution and a 1969 Journal editorial praised the process of “physical hazing” for its abilities to “make the year into a closely knit group and to instill the proverbial ‘school spirit’”. It added that though initiation practices appeared “barbaric,” they were also “effective.”

Robert Lee, Sci ’11, and the Engineering Society’s orientation chair, acknowledged the less

-than-perfect history of the grease pole and other Applied Science orientation events, but said the grease pole of today is different from its manifestations more than fifty years ago.

“The unsavoury things like throwing frozen tomatoes and putting rotten food in the pit have been dealt with extensively,” he said adding that the Engineering Society holds a safety and risk assessment meeting about the grease pole every year and the water is freshly poured by the department of health and safety before students can enter.

Lee said although some EngSoc orientation events might seem daunting to outsiders, activities like moshing and getting yelled at by FRECs are safe, supervised and most importantly, optional.

“The bottom line is that we have such a high participation rate compared to other faculties,” Lee added. “Over 50 percent of Sci ’12 tried out to be FRECS. Six-hundred out of 700 bought jackets.” Lee said the behaviour of FRECs have been an issue in the past, and that this year’s batch of orientation leaders has been highly trained and told to tone it down.

“We’re dealing with the attitudes of the FRECs. We’re trying to make them much more accessible. … they can’t be yelling at the frosh non-stop. And of course they can’t be yelling about or doing things that are going to make new students uncomfortable,” he said.

Joan Jones, co-ordinator of town-gown relations at Queen’s and longtime member of the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB), said some of the “group bonding activities” of frosh weeks gone by were abusive.

“People used to be covered in molasses and feathers or made to run up and down the football field while being hit with sticks. … [New students could be] stripped, blindfolded and driven miles out of town and expected to get home on their own,” she said.

“Arts and Science used to have this thing where they would put people in the dark and make them crawl through rotten food, cold pasta, fish heads and cat food. One year, the transition manual for Chief FREC had ‘Where to get cow’s heads’ as a heading.” The 1984 Chief FREC transition manual suggested other FRECs vomit and urinate into the pit before filling it with “assorted animal guts” in order to ensure the grease pole climb wasn’t too tame.

Hazing is defined by the Orientation Round Table to be anything that fails to foster an inclusive, positive environment or places pressure on students to do anything against their will.

Jones said SOARB examines current practices and draws attention to problems.

She added most of the really gross stuff—ironically installed to shift the week’s focus from drugs, sex and alcohol—was at least a decade old, and that turning frosh week around was an ongoing process.

“I think it’s really an evolution of a mindset and the way we view the world, accessibility, inclusivity and diversity. The students of today are just much more in tune with making it an inclusive environment.”

Changes have come slowly and not without opposition. In a 1971 referendum, a majority of students voted to continue allowing hazing.

When the Faculty of Arts and Science replaced the “Hallway of Hell” (the cat food and cold pasta endeavour) with name games and trivia contests in 1989, they were mocked mercilessly by other faculties, who continued with traditional hazing practices.

Fears of a PC revolution have arisen in recent years. SOARB’s decision to ban the Arts and Science’s “Beer Cheer” for its lyrics about intoxicated frosh and orientation leaders drew fire from many who felt the move babied students, abandoned tradition and denied the reality of drinking at university.

Lee said it’s hard to find a balance between inclusivity and tradition.

“It’s a tough issue,” Lee said. “On the one hand it is essential that we stay inclusive, that is what orientation is about. On the other, I would say that to a certain extent things are swinging too far to the other side of the spectrum,” he said.” I would say eventually we’re going to be including everyone, but are we really going to be orienting anyone? Making things PC is fine, but you have to make sure you keep up the spirit and the intensity of the events.”

Recent changes include the banning of several faculty cheers and toning down inter-faculty mockery.

Lee said it’s important to anticipate that kind of criticism while planning for orientation week.

“We need to think critically and look at every event; by doing this we can forsee potential problems and maintain a safe orientation week with good relations to senior administration.”

Lee said he anticipates that frosh week will continue to evolve at a quick pace, but hopes the event in the future will maintain traditional spirit.

“Ideally I want to be able to come back 10 years from now with my committee and be able to enjoy orientation week in a lot of the same ways we enjoy it now,” he said. “Realistically I know there will be some concessions between now and then. We’ll have to make some adjustments, but I really hope steps will be taken so all the important aspects of frosh week will be around. It may be tamed a bit, but hopefully the important parts will all be here still. We’re fighting to find creative ways to keep our traditions alive.”

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