A more thorough review of Boris Cherniak’s performance would and should have prevented the racially insensitive scene performed at Gael Orientation pre-week.
Queen’s Arts & Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS) hired hypnotist Boris Cherniak as the performer for a “Mystery Event” attended by Gaels, orientation chairs, and student leaders.
Once onstage, Cherniak persuaded hypnotized audience members to imitate foreign languages. Insensitive material should never have been permitted at an orientation event, which aims to foster community and positivity.
Had this performance been attended by first-year students instead of their Gaels, the fallout would have been even more devastating. Racialized students who’d come to Queen’s hoping to find it more inclusive than alleged would have immediately believed themselves proven wrong.
To anyone who had properly researched Cherniak’s act, this performance wouldn’t have been a surprise. Cherniak has performed this exact skit many times—on television and at multiple Queen’s orientations in the past.
All orientation events undergo thorough revision. The Orientation Roundtable Committee (ORT) Coordinator, the AMS’s Commissioner of Campus Affairs, and the Dean or designate must all approve of each event.
At some point, one of the many stakeholders involved in that process should have thought to review the content of Cherniak’s performance, particularly because it involved hypnosis, which inhibits consent.
It’s questionable whether an event that places students in public, acting beyond their consent onstage, is even appropriate to host at a university.
Once the performance became offensive, one of the many officials should have put a stop to it.
Regardless of why the performance wasn’t stopped, its continuation implied institutional acceptance of Cherniak’s inappropriateness and demonstrated a further failure to protect the students who were present.
Despite its attempts to imply otherwise, the AMS wasn’t entirely uninvolved in the planning of this event.
Although Cherniak’s performance was unsanctioned, it was only because some participants didn’t submit their waivers for the event on time. Had all waivers been submitted, this would have been a sanctioned event.
Labelling the event unsanctioned rather than acknowledging their own involvement is disingenuous of the AMS and attempts to shirk the responsibility they owe students.
Admittedly, though, the AMS’s response to this incident displayed marked improvement from previous instances.
The AMS quickly condemned the performance’s culturally insensitive comments and provided next steps in the form of a guide for future event organizers on how to handle situations like Cherniak’s performance.
Asking attendees to delete videos from the hypnotism will protect its participants from being punished for acts they could have been pressured into performing.
This event should serve as a learning experience for the AMS. Hopefully, their response to this event marks a first step towards improved communication and accountability in the future.
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