If what Alexandria Bennett says is true regarding her complaints to the student union about the offensive frosh week chants at Saint Mary’s University, I can’t help but question the intent behind the school’s disciplinary action of several organizers.
These specific chants have apparently been apart of Frosh week for at least four years and while festivities for first-year students living on campus are typically independent from that of the school itself, the role of the student union is to meet in the middle. I highly doubt the student union didn’t realize the chant existed, whether Alexandria brought it to them or not.
The public, however, didn’t until a video was leaked on Instagram last week showing the lines that promoted sex without consent and sex with minors. It would seem that discipline was handed out to appease the public outrage and save face rather than to actually punish the actions of the organizers.
Of course, it can do both.
With the topic of sexual consent being such a big issue right now, any action that punishes pro-rape activity or promotion is a good thing.
This once again highlights the value and impact that social media has on enforcing people and organizations to hold those accountable for these types of actions that would otherwise continue to be swept under the rug.
As Alexandria claims, she brought it up last year and nothing was done. Without the impact of social media, chances are it would have continued into next year as well.
Were the chants harmless? Some probably thought so based on the suggestion that it wasn’t the words that were important but the rhyming that was and was why they were used.
To answer that question for myself, I thought back to my own Frosh week at Dalhousie in 2002. I lived on campus in an all-male residence so naturally, our frosh leaders were all guys and all jock.
The thought that life gets betters after high school didn’t resonate with me in my first week of university as the type of guys who ruled high school were still in charge, for real this time. The idea of frosh week is to foster a sense of belonging and togetherness and brotherhood but to do it using processes like chanting and group activities. Resulting in groupthink.
It’s the sense of groupthink that allowed these chants and others like it to go on for so long. Nobody questions the authority because nobody wants to stand apart from the group in a new environment and “ruin the fun”.
I don’t remember any of the chants we had to recite during my frosh week but I do remember there being a lot of sexual comments and phrases – macho chest beating and testosterone flowing stuff – often directed with girls on the receiving end (there were never any girls present to hear what was said).
After my house leaders continued to plan house meetings during the same time as specific frosh-week events that I wanted to attend, I stopped going to them with the risk that I might be alienated from my “brothers”.
My time living on campus wasn’t bad but I don’t look fondly on my own frosh week. For me, life didn’t begin after high school. It began after frosh week.
To answer the question above, I think the chants are problematic. On a personal level, I was uncomfortable with the male-dominating persona that we had to take on during my own frosh week. It felt demeaning to be demeaning. On a grander scale, the words and the tone further promotes sex as a prize and women as objects that need to be attained at any opportunity.
The first few weeks at university are critical in making you into who you are with the people who will ultimately become your longterm friends. If misogyny is the basis for that bond, it may very well be embraced as a part of who you become.
While I don’t believe my frosh week experiences had any long-term impact on who I’ve become, I think more impressionable minds and those with a strong desire to fit in could have been influenced.
The chants are part of a bigger problem and I don’t think SMU frosh leaders are completely alone in it. They were just the ones to get caught and will now serve as the example. If anything good can come from this it’s that leaders and student unions will re-evaluate their activities and make them welcoming.
Brotherhood can come without forcing a sense of male dominance. I believe the punishments are justified but in any situation like this, it is with the discussions that result that will bring results and change.