Saint Mary's University counters rape chant with workshops

Saint Mary's University launches "Safe at SMU" workshops for first-time students to help them adjust to the pressures of university life.

'Safe at SMU' tackles cultural differences, sexual consent and academic safety

Lukundo Nakazwe says others helped her adjust to Canadian winters when she arrived from Zambia, so now she's helping others. (CBC)

Would you buy someone a clock as a gift?

In China, it could be considered an insult, suggesting you're hoping the recipient will die soon.

Understanding these sort of cultural differences is part of a series of workshops being conducted at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

The workshops, dubbed "Safe at SMU," are part of welcome week, providing orientation to first-time students.

"Specifically in these workshops we're looking at three things," said Heidi Weigand, director of SMU's Centre for the Study of Sport and Health.

"We're looking at cultural safety, sexual consent, and academic safety."

Cultural safety addresses things like the clock example. It also helps people adjust to life in Nova Scotia.

"It was a shock when I got here in January," said student Lukundo Nakazwe, describing her first experience in Canada.

"It was cold. I just looked around. The trees had no leaves, so I was like Mom, the trees have no leaves," she said.

Nakazwe came to Saint Mary's from Zambia three years ago for a commerce degree. She says people welcomed her at the university and helped her adjust. Now, she's returning the favour.

"I'm pretty much passing the baton on to other students who are coming so that they can be great leaders too and not wait to be told to get involved, just to jump right in and make a difference on their campus."

Rape chant tarnished SMU's image

Saint Mary's image on the issue of sexual safety took a battering a couple of years ago when a video surfaced of student leaders chanting a misogynistic rhyme.

Weigand said these workshops emerged from an action plan developed in response to that video.

"At the same time, we also are focussing on sexual consent and sexual consent is about understanding and creating awareness for first-year students about what we mean by consent and the idea that you're giving permission to do something," she said.

Weigand said the workshops also help students develop coping skills for some of the pressures they encounter in university that they didn't face before.

"In the first week, getting ahead of that and really teaching students to become aware of different things that are available in university is, I think, a really great path to success," she said.


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