Orientation weeks are an opportunity to educate about sexual violence. Banning them isn’t the solution.


This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.

Sexual violence at post-secondary institutions like Queen’s is an egregious problem. It’s clear more drastic and meaningful measures must be taken by universities to prevent this violence from occurring—but cancelling orientation weeks is only a small step, not a catch-all solution.

Orientation week can be an expression of toxic masculinity, from men trying to outdo each other in numbers of sexual partners to uniforms catering to the male gaze. On campuses like Queen’s, where activities and rituals differ between faculties, social hierarchies can emerge amongst student groups based on presumed entitlement. These sentiments are dangerous, as they support the values that allow rape culture to persist and thrive.

However, scrapping orientation week is only a band-aid solution.

An orientation week ban looks a lot like a deferral of responsibility from universities for the sexual violence happening in the student population. To make a positive change, part of orientation should be restructured into a misogyny-and toxicity-free education opportunity for students.

Reshaping orientation week to facilitate meaningful dialogue would help institutions address the crisis of sexual violence without running away from responsibility.

Understanding what constitutes sexual violence and assault, for example, is something many young people struggle with. Centering orientation on consent education is a necessary place to start. As well, setting clear boundaries about the kind of language that can contribute to a culture of sexual violence can prevent incoming students from driving a toxic culture.

How orientation leaders discuss rape culture and drinking reflects what it means to be part of Queen’s culture and what responsibilities frosh have when they join the community. 

Cancelling orientation week ignores the positive impact on students’ transitions to campuses and the power they hold to inspire positive change. Most of the daytime activities—at Queen’s at least—are supervised and allow social circles to form in a stress-free environment.

The loss of such a prominent part of campus culture could evoke student outrage and detract from the needed conversations about sexual violence. Additionally, students intended to be protected by the ban would likely be on the receiving end of others’ anger.

We must strive to normalize discussion about sexual violence and what it looks like on our campus to both help those affected by it in the present and to protect those who may be affected in the future. At times we must set aside personal discomfort to call out our friends when they do something inappropriate. Little gestures like these can help dismantle a larger flawed culture.

For a complicated issue like sexual violence, it’s difficult to find one ‘right’ solution. Cancelling orientation week may be the temporary band-aid solution needed for a more effective long-term solution to develop—or it might not be.

Either way, a solution that promotes productive dialogue around the prevention of sexual violence between students will be more effective than any ban.

—Journal Editorial Board

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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.