New focus for frosh leader training

Disruption of inclusivity presentation prompts AMS ad-hoc committee to explore hiring and training practice

Next year’s frosh leaders might be in store for a more inclusive hiring and training process after a workshop ended prematurely for some frosh leaders this year.

The incident began when the Queen’s Committee for Racial and Ethnic Diversity (QCRED) was speaking to physical education and commerce students.

“We were asked by [AMS Social Issues Commissioner Allison Williams] to do a presentation on inclusivity as a brief refresher of things they should’ve known,” said Darcel Bullen, one of the QCRED presenters. “This was in no way training.

“It got so out of control and so heated, StuCons stepped in front of [us] and told the crowd to settle down.”

The session intensified during a discussion about a Whig-Standard cover photo taken during last year’s Homecoming party. The photo was of a black high school student standing on top of a burning car.

Bullen said her group didn’t finish their presentation because they felt threatened during the session.

“They started by just putting their hands up … and later started objecting outright. It was more of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ combative thing, which is why the StuCons had to step in,” she said.

“The group … made comments like, ‘Using the word nigger is OK,’ in reference to when a black police officer was called a nigger at Homecoming 2005, because the word is used in pop culture.”

Mitch Gillin, Comm ’09, is next year’s Commerce Orientation Committee chair. He attended the training session and thinks QCRED was understandably upset about the presentation.

“I understand why they would be upset about it for sure because they came into it to make a point and they weren’t able to make it,” he said.

Gillin said a few people started discussing The Whig’s Homecoming photo, “and then it turned into a large discussion about whether people thought it was racist,” he said.

He added that he couldn’t say whether the comments made were appropriate.

“Everyone has different views about how the media portrays things and that was what it was fundamentally about.”

Gillin said he didn’t think the presentation had to be stopped because of safety concerns, but because an Orientation Roundtable member halted the discussion due to time constraints. “It seemed like it just got stopped because it went on for too long; it turned into less of them informing us with stuff and more of an open forum,” he said.

AMS Campus Activities Commissioner Hilary Smith said some frosh leaders didn’t understand the purpose of the training.

“[The presenters] were just trying to make people aware that there is diversity on campus and people need to feel included,” she said, adding that this was the first year the AMS brought in outside presentations for frosh leader training.

“I could see how some of the comments made on the side of the sensitivity instructors could have been misconstrued by the audience as attacking and offensive to them,” she said. “I can see it from both angles—it was just disruptive.”

In response to the incident, the AMS created a 12-person committee, including the campus activities commissioner, the vice-president (university affairs) and the social issues commissioner.

The committee will make recommendations to facilitate better hiring and training practices for all frosh leaders, and will release the recommendations at the end of March, after each faculty has hired its frosh leaders.

“We know we can’t fix all hiring practices, but it sets in place measures for next year,” Smith said, adding that she would like to see more consistency in how faculties hire their frosh leaders and would like to revamp sensitivity training.

“I do recognize each faculty is unique to its own, but they should be following some sort of human resources-type set-up for their questions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mike Reddick, ArtSci ’08 and new Head Gael, said finding alternative venues for events such as the principal’s address and the frosh dance will be tough when Queen’s Centre construction takes over Jock Harty arena.

“If Jock Harty’s gone, it will really bring new challenges to us,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want orientation fees to increase because of the new challenges.

“That’s something we’re very adamant about,” he said.

Reddick said he also wants to ensure Frosh Week is something all frosh can enjoy.

“There’s a multiple number of reasons why students might be uncomfortable coming to Queen’s especially during Frosh week,” he said. “This is the barrier we need to break down.”

Mike Evans, the new Engineering Orientation Chair, said one of the issues he wants to tackle is the University’s ban on frosh week gatherings in off-campus houses.

“They allow our whole frosh group to really bond in an intimate environment,” he said. “One of the main complaints this year among frosh was that they didn’t get to know their groups as well.”

The engineering orientation committee, as well as other faculty orientations, was given additional funds this year by the student affairs office because of the close timing of the decision to ban off-campus housed events.

Frecs, who have a tradition of giving their frosh “eng cuts” during frosh week, had to re-route electrical circuitry to allow for blow dryers and hair cutters in Agnes Benedickson Field.

“Last year’s Eng cut circuit was a very expensive option,” Evans said, adding that he doesn’t know yet what the orientation committee will plan for next year.

PHESA President Hilary Banack said PHESA’s new frosh leaders will focus on accessibility after a student with a disability this year wasn’t able to participate in the three-day camp that frosh and leaders attend annually.

PHESA will also be looking into faculty-specific training for frosh week, Banack said.

“This past year we had an accessibility issue and we addressed it fully and we’re going to improve our inclusively even more for the upcoming year,” she said, adding that PhysEd will continue to make familiarizing Frosh with the Kingston community a priority.

“When we are on campus we make a really big effort to orient the students,” she said.

By contrast, Commerce orientation makes a point of staying out of the Ghetto and on campus, Commerce’s Gillin said.

“We’re obviously respecting the town as much as we can; we don’t plan any events that involve the student Ghetto where everyone lives,” he said. “We try and stay away from that.

“There are people living out there, we try to respect that … we haven’t had any issues with it in the past but if we have the opportunity to improve town-gown relations, we’ll improve it.”

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