McMaster University students’ group latest hit by controversy over sexist, violent chants

Members of the McMaster Redsuits march in the Hamilton Santa Claus Parade last November. The engineering student group has been banned from campus activities. (CBC/Facebook) (Facebook)

Apparently McMaster University's engineering students didn't get the memo about sexist pep chants.

Or maybe they did and they just decided to thumb their noses at the powers that be in the most extreme manner possible, and at a time when the Hamilton, Ont., school is trying to attract more women.

Whatever they're thinking, an engineering students' group called the Redsuits (they apparently wear bright red jumpsuits) has been suspended for using a songbook filled with what university officials call "sexist, violent and degrading material," CBC News reports.

“The material is highly repugnant,” McMaster provost and academic vice-president David Wilkinson said in a news release Thursday.

“The university has clear expectations that everyone on campus show respect for each other. The engineering songbook that we have learned about is highly disturbing and is the exact opposite to everything for which the university stands.

"We and many engineering schools across the country have worked hard for a number of years to build an inclusive student culture. It is clear in this instance, at least here at McMaster, that there is far more work to do."

[ Related: Saint Mary’s University addresses sexual culture on campus, but issue looms larger ]

The McMaster situation paralleled last fall's incidents at St. Mary's University in Halifax and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver but to a surreal level.

An uproar developed during frosh week on those campuses on the opposite coasts over chants that included lines about raping underage women.

The incident at St. Mary's led to the resignation of the student union's president and an inquiry that recommended 20 ways to educate people on campus about sexual violence.

The UBC case, which originated with business-school students, produced a recommendation for a sex-assault counsellor funded through student fees. But business-school students voted down the proposal, forcing the university to cover the cost.

In McMaster's case, though, some of the offending lyrics in the Redsuits' songbook make the UBC and St. Mary's chants seem like nursery rhymes in comparison. According to McMaster's student newspaper, the Silhouette, the 28 songs and chants are laced with explicit references to child abuse, underage sex, sexual assault on intoxicated victims and physical violence, including mutilating of female genitals.

A scan through the songbook, as reproduced by the Silhouette, reveals a series of juvenile, profanity-laced lyrics.

One song, entitled "S&M Man," includes this disclaimer:

"There is no good place to sing this. People will be offended. The content on the next page includes bloody rape, murderous incest, child mutilation, fetal ingestion at the very least. Proceed with caution."

But all in good fun, presumably.

[ Related: UBC investigates frosh students' pro-rape chant ]

One of the more PG-rated chants that CBC News found on the McMaster Engineering Society's web site goes:

“We are the engineers, so pity us. The profs are jerks, the work is hideous. But we’ll still smoke and drink and fool around, we’re nookie-bound… McMaster Engineers!”

The engineering society quickly disavowed the songbook.

"It has come to our attention that university administration has been presented with a cheer book compiled years ago by a small number of McMaster Engineering students," the society said in a statement on its web site.

"This book is not, and has never been, distributed or endorsed by the McMaster Engineering Society (MES). The content unequivocally opposes what the MES represents."

Nevertheless, all of the society's activities that include alcohol or are related to Welcome Week got suspended pending the outcome of an investigation, the statement said.

"Moreover, 'Redsuits' will not be permitted to participate in any events on campus, and our passionate Welcome Week Representatives will not be able to serve first year engineering students in the upcoming Welcome Week," it said, offering apologies to anyone who might have been offended by the lyrics.

The university's dean of engineering, Ishwar Puri, said the Redsuits have a long record of positive work on campus but apparently condoned songs and behaviour that "runs completely counter to the values the university works to instill," the Kitchener-Waterloo Record reported.

"Sadly, the small number of students within the organization and the red suits they wear have now become symbols of intolerance and a sexist mindset that has no place at the university or in our society," he said in a statement.