A Nova Scotia university held a conference on sexuality this weekend, including discussions of the notorious pro-rape chant shouted by frosh students at Saint Mary’s University this fall.

Students gathered at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish over the weekend for a event called "Bringing in the Bystander."

SMU sent members of its student association to the event, but no one from SMUSA would speak about what they learned.  

SMU students being targeted 

Jonathan Williams, the executive director of Students Nova Scotia, attended with Callie Lathem, the equity officer for Acadia University's student union.

Lathem is also chairwoman of a steering committee on sexual-assault prevention with Students Nova Scotia.

Williams said SMUSA people associated with the pro-rape chant had been individually targeted online. He said the conference had talked about a “rape culture” that devalues women and encourages assault.

“The chant that took place at Saint Mary’s was clearly an expression of that. It was encouraging sexual assault,” he said.

“Something else that is dehumanizing is scapegoating.  That’s been happening as well, notably on the internet.”

He said SMUSA participants were not speaking publicly about the conference to avoid becoming targets.

“We want to have a conversation, absolutely,” he said. “But we need to constantly keep in mind whether or not what we’re doing to respond to that is actually helping to make the problem better, or is creating different problems.”

Bystanders must help

Lathem said she learned to look at the bystander in a positive light.

“People who stand up for the prevention of sexual violence were really positive bystanders,” she said.

She said “empowered” bystanders could be a force for good.

Williams agreed that things would have gone better if people had vocalized opposition to the rape chant during the chant.

Lathem said it was a big topic of conversation in Wolfville.

“We’ve been having those conversation, but they’re even more so brought to the light in instances like this.”

Williams was asked if university students should already know such a chant is wrong.

“I think it goes beyond the individual when there are that many people,” he said. “What we need to do is find ways to foster individuals that are going to intervene."

The event was organized by the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and the training was delivered by American researchers to a wide group of students.