Students heading off to Saint Mary’s University in Halifax for the first time this fall will have a much different frosh week experience compared to students in past years.
Last year, Saint Mary's University made national headlines after student leaders led a chant during frosh week that promoted non-consensual sex with underage girls. The president of the Saint Mary's University Student Association resigned and two other students faced disciplinary action.
The outrage that followed put a spotlight on campus culture at Saint Mary's and led to a president council report released last December.
The report, called Promoting a Culture of Safety, Respect and Consent at Saint Mary's University and Beyond, devoted a section on the need to revise orientation week.
This year, orientation week has been renamed Welcome Week.
Margaret Murphy, associate vice-president of external affairs at Saint Mary's University, says orientation will become "a process" that will continue throughout the year.
"Welcome Week, or the first week, is going to be one part of it. We’re going to have ongoing activities throughout the first term and refresh again in January when new students join the university and make it more of a process about welcoming people to university and see them succeed while they’re here. Then the outreach once they graduate."
Murphy says one big difference is the level of involvement from the university. Students will also notice a stronger academic focus to the activities.
"We are taking a much stronger involvement this time, even the faculty," Murphy said. "Deans will actually greet students and have luncheons with them. Staff are much more involved, the leadership is much more involved."
One of the planned activities is an invocation ceremony that Murphy says will demonstrate to students some of the aspirations of graduating and why they want to be a student at Saint Mary’s University.
At the same time, Murphy says, students will still have fun with concerts and Shinerama events, and they will benefit from a combined orientation for international and domestic students.
'Staff are much more involved, the leadership is much more involved.' - Margaret Murphy
Murphy says student leaders and university staff have spent months planning for orientation, which includes workshops and training.
Topics covered have included sexual consent, sexual violence, harassment, healthy relationships and excessive alcohol consumption.
Saint Mary’s University has relied heavily on other universities to form their new policy on excessive drinking.
"We’re actually following the leadership at other universities on the alcohol policy," she says. "The great work that’s being done at Acadia (University) by their president and chief medical officer Dr. (Robert) Strang. We’re going to use their alcohol policy. So a lot of universities are taking a hard look at orientation."