Sep 132013

By Judy Haiven and Larry Haiven, professors in the Department of Management, Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University. Both are members of Solidarity Halifax.

Originally published in the Halifax Media Coop on September 12, 2013.

The recent events surrounding the frosh chant shame and diminish the entire Saint Mary’s University community in an unprecedented way. But no other university can stand by smugly as if such incidents are not also their concern.

It is disturbing that there seems to be a drive by the administration to “carry on” business as usual. On Monday, Sept 9 we were all encouraged to “wear maroon” and some of us have been admonished for not doing so. Other faculty and staff are being cajoled to “get behind” Saint Mary’s.

This is not the only incident in recent years involving degradation of women. In 2005, a “Girls of Saint Mary’s” calendar, part of an official Commerce entrepreneurship exercise, showed SMU women students in sexually provocative poses. In 2012, faculty members complained when the women’s soccer team engaged in an “initiation exercise” wearing skimpy clothing, yelling obscenities at passers-by in the quadrangle at the behest of their male handler. The behaviour of other sports teams, male and female, have elicited complaints. There are other cases of harassment, torment and offensive behavior against women at SMU, much of it off public radar.

In many of these cases, the university authorities have issued condemnations and imposed some corrective action. So why do these incidents continue to happen? This is one of the most important questions the university community needs to answer.

How could the frosh chant have happened? Have we not had non-stop coverage of the Rehtaeh Parsons case (where Parsons, a teenage girl was raped at a party, photos taken and distributed electronically; Parsons later committed suicide?) Has there not been the huge controversy over the video “Blurred Lines” (which glorifies non-consensual sex?) Surely the question of mutual informed consent for sexual activity has been front and centre and impossible to ignore for some time.

Yet the student union president and eighty frosh leaders conducted up to 400 incoming students in a chant that proudly and unambiguously glorifies the rape of young women.

The offensive chants, underage drinking, and lewd games in what amount to hazing rituals, have been part of orientation for years. Alexandria Bennett, a former frosh leader was rebuffed last year by the Student Association when she complained about the “sexual and offensive nature of the cheers and games”. Bennett says one frosh woman eventually left SMU for Mount Saint Vincent. “She was a rape victim herself and it upset her so much she transferred.” As for recommending SMU to others, Bennett says, “I try not to recommend SMU. Unless you’re super dedicated, you just get caught up in this entrapment of sexuality and alcohol.”

Halifax Herald columnist Gail Lethbridge has written, “The now-infamous chant is one of those rare moments when the velvet glove of sexual equality is removed and the iron fist of campus rape culture is revealed.”

Almost as soon as the chant was discovered we heard the phrases “going forward,” “move forward” and “get past” (the incident,) as if it were a gigantic traffic accident at the side of the road, move along, nothing to see here. But moving on is exactly the wrong thing to do. Moving forward is for later.

We, as a community, need to stop, sit in the stew for awhile, think and discuss what is happening. And in this discussion, Saint Mary’s men need to step back, cede to women, stop being the centre of attention, listen and change.

After the chant incident, it is hard to deny the existence of a “rape culture” on campus, a culture that seeks to privilege whiteness, maleness and sports and partying . But, while the reality of consent is missing, the fantasy of consent and rebellion at its necessity is pervasive. As the video “Blurred Lines” says: “I know you want it. I hate them lines.”

The Student Association and the university are lacking a moral compass and we need to find one. We are not talking about the morality of puritanism. We have finally reached the era where adults can freely engage in consensual sexual relations without prohibition, and that’s a good thing. But the morality we need is one of respect, consent and inclusion. If this shameful incident helps get us there, then good for all of us.

Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.




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