I'm having trouble understanding the value of university frosh week in the wake of the furor over the nasty chants at universities on the east and west coasts.
I started university during the trailing edge of the counterculture era and I don't remember frosh being a big deal. There was probably some basic orientation for new students but people weren't into things like fraternities and sororities, and the kinds of hijinks you hear about now were out of fashion.
No T-shirts or silly bonding initiations, and no chants. Well, except for maybe the engineers, for whom the sixties never happened.
The incidents at St. Mary's University in Halifax and the University of British Columbia came as a shock to a lot of Canadians who might have thought a generation of indoctrinating young people about respecting sexual boundaries would make a difference.
The flap first erupted last week when a video surfaced on the web showing hundreds of St. Mary's students, including young women, participating in a frosh-week chant that espoused the virtues of non-consensual sex with underage girls.
Student leaders involved in organizing the event fell on their swords and the student association and university announced dozens of students would undergo sensitivity training. St. Mary's also promised that most Canadian of remedies, a task force on preventing sexual violence.
A few days later, it was revealed a similar chant was being used at frosh events organized by the UBC's business school students during frosh orientation.
As at St. Mary's, the chant had been used for some years, but there was a tacit agreement to keep it on the down-low.
“We had problems a very long time ago with the cheers being public in a sort of way and the dean (of the business school) seeing,” frosh co-chair Jacqueline Chen reportedly said, according to the Globe and Mail. “We let the groups know: if it happens in the group, it has to stay in the group.”
Soon after, the apology and the promise of an investigation.
That's fine, as far as it goes. But maybe it's time to look at the whole idea of frosh week.
Aren't there other ways to embed students with fealty to their new alma mater than several days of getting hammered, eating disgusting substances, dressing funny and participating in mob-like activities that apparently includes chanting your desire to rape young girls?
All in fun, I'm sure, but how do these things help foster the development of values and critical thinking that university's supposed to be all about?
The Canadian Federation of Students condemned the incident at St. Mary's.
"College and university campuses should be safe and welcoming spaces for all students," Sarah Trower, women's liaison officer for the Canadian Federation of Students – Nova Scotia, said in a news release. "Sexist chants that promote violence create a campus culture that excludes and marginalizes women students."
But the federation also tried to play down the incidents, defending "peer-to-peer" orientation despite "problematic traditions that exist on some campuses," the National Post reported.
“It’s a concern that [the chants] could be used by administrations as an example of why frosh week should not be student-led,” said federation chairwoman Jessica McCormick.
What concerns me is that for all the education that's been done over decades around "no means no," alarms didn't go off among more of the young men and women involved in the chanting.
A couple have come forward to say their past complaints were sloughed off. But young froshies apparently were unwilling to stand up as a group and and tell there "leaders" that "this is wrong."