What is it about frosh week, also known as orientation week, that makes acting like an idiot acceptable? Yes, frosh week takes place during a sweet spot after saying goodbye to parents, high school angst, a summer job and before the staggering responsibility of classes, readings and practice problems fully hits. Yes, here in Alberta at least, most participants are now over 18 and can legally drown themselves in that seductive elixir known as alcohol (though partying in high school was possibly more attractive). But orientation week appears to come with a get-out-of-jail free card, where everything can be erased with the start of classes.
However, a group of orientation leaders and Students’ Association executives from St. Mary’s University in Halifax are learning the hard way that what happens at orientation week, doesn’t always stay at orientation week. The Internet and mainstream media reported on Friday, Sept. 6 that a video of orientation leaders chanting an offensive song was sparking outrage and disgrace.
The chant goes, “Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for grab that ass — Saint Mary’s boys we like them young.”
The media attention has brought shame and embarrassment to the school. The university’s president, Colin Dodds, has called the chant, “inexcusable” and the 80 orientation leaders have been ordered to take sensitivity training. The Students’ Association president Jared Perry and vice-president student life Carrigan Desjardins have resigned. A SMU alumni from Calgary has personally returned two degrees that he earned from the school.
A deluge of embarrassment has fallen on the school, yet the cheer has reportedly been used for at least five years. The problem this time appears to be catching the orientation leaders on video and posting it online.
The use of the same chant at the University of British Columbia alters the words only slightly, “Y-O-U-N-G at UBC, we like ‘em young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.” The use of this chant was brought to light only a few days after the St. Mary’s firestorm by a first-year student who tweeted about it. Students at UBC say that the chant has been used for 20 years. Is this just the first group of first-years to hear the chant and tell someone else about it? The chant is degrading, disgusting and it makes light of sexual assault.
And for those who try to distinguish between just saying the words to fit in with a crowd and actually committing a crime, think about these facts, released by the Canadian Federation of Students in April 2013: many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first 8 weeks of classes. More than 80 per cent of sexual assaults that occur on college and university campuses are committed by someone known to the victim. Almost half of all self-reported sexual assaults in Canada were against people aged 15 to 24. And while statistics of sexual assault are notoriously underreported, these do point to the fact that this is a pressing problem on Canadian campuses.
It’s not the first dirty chant and it won’t be the last, but students across the country hopefully got the message that the need to think about what they are chanting and endorsing during orientation week. While cheering and chanting is a traditional way of raising school spirit, sexual and alcohol-driven activities don’t present an inclusive welcome to an environment which is supposed to be on the forefront of diverse values.