Hundreds of people have signed a petition started by McMaster University engineering students that’s calling on the university to reinstate privileges stripped in the wake of the Redsuits songbook controversy.

“They basically condemned 4,000 students with one stroke,” said Simon Almeida, the fifth year engineering student who launched the petition. “There’s enough PhD’s between the people who did this to make a smarter decision.”

The university suspended the Redsuits engineering student group after a songbook surfaced back in January that contains what the university calls “sexist, violent and degrading material.”

The songbook contains around 25 cheers and includes multiple references to rape, murder, incest, bestiality and sex with underage females. It is also rife with misogynistic and homophobic slurs. 

But Almedia calls it a “fringe document” that most students knew nothing about. “It was about four students that put it together in 2010. That’s it,” he said. “Everyone does stupid things in first year.”

Banned from hosting events

The Redsuits are made up of student volunteers from the McMaster Engineering Society (MES) who promote school spirit throughout the year on campus and wear red jumpsuits. The group plays a main role during the university’s orientation week welcoming new engineering students to the campus.

As a result of the suspension, the Redsuits can no longer run or participate in any events on campus. They will also not be allowed to play a role in the upcoming Welcome Week in September 2014.

The McMaster Engineering Society is also barred from holding any events involving alcohol. That means things like pub nights and formals are all out of the question, Almedia says. “If alcohol is close to the event, it’s pretty much cancelled,” he said.

McMaster Engineering Society's leadership has condemned the content of the songbook and said it has never "distributed or endorsed" the text. 

The university’s response is just too heavy-handed, Almedia says. “It’s setting a precedent for something that’s a little bit dangerous.”

An investigator external to the university is conducting a full review of the nature of the songbook and its use on campus. Any events that happen off campus related to the Redsuits will also be part of that review.

But students aren’t being kept up to date with the status of that investigation, Almedia says. “Ninety-nine per cent of engineers don’t know why this is happening,” he said.

Investigation ongoing

University spokesperson Gord Arbeau told CBC Hamilton there was little he could share about the investigation. He would not specify who was conducting the investigation.

"We said the investigation would be broad-based and would help identify what additional sanctions will be issued," he said. "That’s what is underway now and while this is an active investigation, this is the update we can provide."

The disciplinary action at McMaster comes less than five months after controversial Frosh Week chants at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and the University of British Columbia spurred outrage across the country.

In early September, a video posted online showed student leaders at St. Mary's yelling cheers that glorified rape.

In the clip posted to Instagram, the students used the word "young" as an acronym in a chant that included the lines: "Y is for your sister […] U is for underage, N is for no consent […] Saint Mary’s boys we like them young."

Uproar over the video led the university to conduct a review that resulted in 20 recommendations on how to prevent and address sexual violence on campus.