Queen’s rituals threatened

This year, Orientation Week organizers have taken political correctness too far

Queen’s engineering students engage in one of the many rituals associated with Frosh Week.
Queen’s engineering students engage in one of the many rituals associated with Frosh Week.

Queen’s has maintained a reputation as a spirited school with a vibrant culture, creating an undergraduate experience far different from one at any other school.

The long history of our university has given ample time for customs like slamming, purpling and tamming to develop. These traditions serve an important purpose: they instil a sense of community in Queen’s students, an instantaneous sense of belonging that lasts a lifetime.

At no time is this sense of belonging more important than during Orientation Week, when new Queen’s students are removed from their friends and family and thrust into an unfamiliar environment. I remember during my move-in day, as I was starting to explore my surroundings, I noticed a gaggle of purple-coloured people with silly haircuts ironically mocking the new arrivals. I asked one of the move-in day volunteers, and he explained the tradition to me. This bit of inside knowledge helped me understand the inexplicable actions intrinsic to our school, and made me feel more a part of a community than the friendly volunteers or the smiling dons. That day, the topic of the purple engineers provided an easy ice-breaker for shy first-years with which to approach one another. As we exchanged stories of their antics we grew closer due to the unity that arises from shared tribulations.

So I find it unacceptable that this year the committees responsible for organizing Orientation Week have decided to abolish the move-in day tradition. It is an insult to the intelligence of the incoming class to assume that they are too naive to recognize an obvious caricature when they see one. The appearance of the engineeing students is so outrageous and their clowning so past the point of seriousness that the irony in their speech is not lost on the frosh. At the end of the day, these upper-years have voluntarily come to welcome the incoming class, and the frosh recognize this.

Those in charge have also imposed restrictions on many other beloved Frosh Week events. The sneaky trick of arranging for Grease Pole tickets to go on sale at the same time as the Grant Hall Welcome seems underhanded to me, and the reduced emphasis on interfaculty competition leaves the frosh without a group to identify with. As much as the whole class should feel like a community, the subdivision into more manageably sized faculties, arbitrary as it is, prevents the frosh from feeling lost in the intimidating crowd. It provides them with a starting point from which to find their bearings. Furthermore, barriers which the organizers see as detrimental to the Queen’s spirit of inclusivity quickly break down as frosh become fast friends and develop mutual respect through competition.

At its heart, the issue at hand is that some students and parents feel uncomfortable during some of the Orientation Week events. In itself, that is not a problem. As a kind and welcoming school, Queen’s should seek to accommodate the well-being of as many students as possible. They have a responsibility to ensure the physical and emotional safety of students at school-sanctioned events to the highest reasonable degree.

It becomes a problem when the organizing committees fail to recognize that Orientation Week events are too large to avoid offending the sensibilities of everyone. Trying to accommodate everyone is a futile endeavour which will either lead to the outright cancellation of Orientation Week, or a taming of Queen’s tradition so severe it will be tantamount to cancellation.

I am not suggesting that all complaints that have arisen about Orientation Week should be dismissed or that they are invalid.There have been incidents in the past where first-year students have been made to feel upset or ended up with physical injuries due to poor decisions made by older students. Those cases should be addressed individually with serious consequences, and if they’re too prevalent, eventually a change in policy must also be considered. What I am suggesting is that lately Queen’s has developed a disturbing trend of blindly accommodating more and more minor gripes. It is politically easy to hide behind a platform of total and unquestioning sensitivity, but we have established that such a goal is unattainable and the result undesirable. It follows that sometime before that outcome, a line must be drawn beyond which we should offer our most sincere apologies to those offended, but understand that to further modify our future proceedings is unreasonable.

We have crossed that line this year, but it seems that the increasing rumblings of dissatisfaction have been ignored or subverted with infuriating arguments of unquestioning inclusivity. This fails to take into account that inclusivity is a continuum with absurd absolutes.

I strongly encourage next year’s Orientation Week organizing committee to consult a more representative sample of Queen’s students when addressing a policy response to complaints, and to carefully consider the direction in which the once renowned Queen’s spirit is heading.

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