From cow heads to shaving cream

The University’s Orientation Week rites haven’t always featured harmless fun

Photo: 
These days, FRECs may look scary, but their bark is much worse than their bite thanks to new regulations and training.
These days, FRECs may look scary, but their bark is much worse than their bite thanks to new regulations and training.
Photo: 
Planned activities now include sanitized cheer-offs and peat moss races instead of verbal abuse and tomato throwing.
Planned activities now include sanitized cheer-offs and peat moss races instead of verbal abuse and tomato throwing.
Credit: 
Photos by Ian Babbitt and Katrina Ludlow

Alan Nicholls, ArtSci ’09, spent two hours somersaulting in mud and shaving cream during ASUS’s Carnival Day on Wednesday. He grinned through the splotches of shaving cream on his face and said he kept hearing horror stories about initiation at Queen’s but hasn’t found anything of the sort since he arrived.

“It’s been nothing like what I expected,” he said. “And the Gaels don’t ever make you do something if you don’t want to.”

Nicholls’ comments about Orientation Week in 2005 make Orientation Week in the late 1980s sound more like a Quentin Tarantino film rather than a Queen’s event.

In the late 1980s, a tradition included in the ASUS Orientation Week was the “Hallway of Hell.” Gaels made frosh crawl across a floor smeared with cat food and scattered with pig ears and dead fish. Upper-years smeared peanut butter in the first-year students’ hair and threw rotten eggs and buckets of flour.

Now, Gaels surround Nicholls and voluntarily roll through the mud before their frosh, who wear their stiff new coveralls. On the seat of the coveralls reads the ArtSci Class of 2009 slogan: “2009: ASUS so fine.”

Ten years ago, coverall slogans screamed vulgarities such as “Lick it, slam it, suck it” and “Fuck me, suck me, chew me raw.” A Con-Ed cheer from the early 1990s 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.”

“It was incredible with all of the stuff they would get away with back then,” said Adrienne Quane, this year’s Orientation Round Table (ORT) co-ordinator. “I wouldn’t have participated in Orientation Week back then.” It’s taken almost one hundred years to make Orientation Week safer and more inclusive than it was “back then.” The first orientation events at Queen’s in the late 1800s were subdued, but the early 1900s brought “The Rush.” First-year students lined up against upper-year students across a football field. The first-years had to make it to the other side while fleeing a volley of rotten eggs, oils, dead animals, grease, decaying vegetables and mud.

The throwing of sludge and carrion continued into the 1920s, with the addition of a new tradition: upper-years led blindfolded, shoeless first-years to Collins Bay—almost 13 kilometres from University Avenue and Union Street. If the first-years found their way back and retrieved their shoes, they could call themselves Queen’s students.

First-year women students had one extra problem to face in the University’s early orientation traditions: they were women. “Freshettes,” or first-year female students, couldn’t wear make-up and wore a card around their neck for a week before classes started. The card stated their age, height, weight and address so upper-year men knew how to get in contact with them. This practice began in the 1920s and didn’t stop until the 1970s.

In 1966, the Arts and Science course calendar and orientation handbook asked first-year students to follow a few guidelines when they came to Queen’s. In order to respect the “vigilantes,” who were upper-year orientation leaders, the frosh “must have matches or a lighter at all times for lighting the cigarettes, cigars, and pipes of the vigilantes.” Frosh also had to carry a rag at all times “for polishing shoes of the vigilantes upon request.” As the vigilantes increased their demands—a group of freshettes waxed and cleaned a vigilante’s entire house in the late 1960s—the question of hazing, haircuts and forced costumes was put to a student referendum in 1971. A majority of students voted to continue hazing, and over the next fifteen years, Gaels, FRECs, Teaches, Coaches and Capes took over where the vigilantes left off.

To prevent a “tame” Grease Pole climb in 1984, the previous year’s Chief FREC suggested in his transition manual that the organizing committee pick up tomatoes weeks in advance to let them rot, to have several FRECs urinate and vomit in the pit and to phone Kingston slaughterhouses one week in advance to order cow heads and “assorted animal guts.”

The result? Twenty-five frosh with injuries ranging from frostbite to concussions were taken to hospital. Since organizers at the Grease Pole kept calling for assistance, off-duty St. John’s Ambulance workers responded to the Grease Pole in order to keep other ambulances in circulation.

After the 1984 Grease Pole, organizers of Engineering Orientation Week re-evaluated their practices. Hendrick Minde, the following year’s Grease Pole organizer, banned all projectiles in 1985.

Most other faculties weren’t so willing to clean up their act. The “Hallway of Hell” was started to take the focus off sex, drugs and alcohol in the late 1980s, but still included blatant hazing, now considered by ORT to be anything that doesn’t create an inclusive, positive environment, or places pressure on students to do anything against their will.

Reform came in February 1991. School of Business Undergraduate Chair Rick Jackson chaired an ad hoc senate commission to review Orientation Week. The result of their work was the “Jackson Report,” a publication that called for the end of AMS-sponsored alcoholic events, the curtailment of house crawls and the end of vulgar slogans on coveralls. In the same year, the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB) was created to help improve Orientation Week for ensuing years. It is now composed of student senators, the ORT co-ordinator, the AMS campus activities commissioner and members of the University administration. “It gives us a chance to review what we did well and what needs to change,” said Lindsay Benoit, ORT logistics.

The introduction of roadside signs as a new means to out-do the previous year’s orientation leaders began in the mid-1990s. By1997, two welcoming signs on Highway 401 which read “Queen’s fathers say goodbye to your daughter’s virginity!” and “Thank you Queen’s parents for dropping off your virgin daughters.” “It was degrading,” said Julie DeGroot, ORT marketing and communications.

Queen’s orientation leaders now undergo two days of sensitivity training—one day in March to “get thinking” about issues, and one day in September that offers a “hands-on approach,” said Quane.

During the September session, orientation leaders learn how to deal with potential homophobia and racism during frosh week, as well as how to hold a party that is still in accordance with the Queen’s insurance policies. At the end of the training session, Orientation leaders must sign a contract forbidding them to, among other things, consume alcohol and drugs or have sexual relations with a first-year student during Orientation Week. And for the first time ever, ORT facilitated sensitivity training with all of the Orientation Week executives in all of the student societies, an event that went over with “some effect,” Quane said.

For Rajeevan Rasenthiran, ArtSci ’09, Orientation Week events like the ASUS Carnival are exactly what first-year students need before they begin their post-secondary studies.

“This stuff is awesome. I thought University would be a lot stuffier,” he said. “I thought I’d grow a goatee and sip coffee.”

Learning about the Queen’s tradition is a good way to be welcomed into the community, said DeGroot. “It makes you feel more at home.” But it’s some of those very traditions that are responsible for the hazing of years past. According to ORT data, vestiges of those traditions remain.

Last year, 15 per cent of first-year students who responded to a survey about their Orientation Week experience said their leaders didn’t treat them equally, and 20 per cent said they finished the week with little or no respect for their leaders.

Thirteen per cent of the survey respondents said they felt pressure to drink from their leaders—in a year where most Orientation Week activities were dry—and 12 per cent felt personally humiliated.

According to notes obtained by the Journal from a presentation the Orientation Round Table gave to this year’s Orientation leaders, student leaders of previous years found that “tradition was a very difficult thing to try and change.”

Quane said there is still work to be done.

“Not all traditions are the same,” she said. “They’re always evolving.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.