A year after a controversial frosh week video that included a chant that boasted of male students' preference for non-consensual sex with underage girls went viral, Saint Mary's University in Halifax says there's still a ways to go in the battle against sexualized violence on campus.
The video of the frosh week chant was posted online, prompting some university student unions to take precautions for the school year that begins next week.
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In the video, which sparked a nationwide debate, students used the word "young" as an acronym in a chant that includes the lines: "Y is for your sister […] U is for underage, N is for no consent […] Saint Mary’s boys, we like them young."
University officials vowed to make changes to the school's frosh week rituals, including renaming orientation week to Welcome Week.
Last winter, an SMU panel made 20 recommendations, including developing a code of conduct, establishing and communicating to students what consent means, and implementing a policy to deal with drugs and alcohol on campus.
SMU president Colin Dodds said progress has been made on some of the recommendations, including introducing a new vetting and training process for Welcome Week leaders, who are trained in a two-day course that includes sessions on sexual consent, diversity, alcohol, mental health and leadership.
However, the university has not made changes to its on-campus alcohol policy.
"A lot has been accomplished in setting a path to bring about change and cultural change on our campus, but our work is not complete," said Dodds. "Creating cultural change requires an ongoing commitment and the support of all members of the university community."
Professor Wayne MacKay, hired to respond to last year’s troubling chant, says he's encouraged by the progress Saint Mary's has made to date.
"Dark clouds often have silver linings, and I think there’s some quite significant silver linings to the response to the incident of last year," he said during Wednesday's news conference.
"I’m impressed that there's a serious commitment to the important issue of sexualized violence on campus and a serious commitment to make change and to make the kind of cultural change that the council talked about."
Other changes this year include the hiring of a full-time orientation week coordinator to keep a closer eye on 2,000 first-year students arriving in Halifax this week.
Twenty-four student leaders will get training on how not to be a passive bystander in the face of unacceptable behaviour. As well there will be a charter of responsibility and more faculty will take part in orientation week.
Short online video clips discussing informed consent and what is and is not a sexual assault will be made available to all students by next week.
A different approach
James Patriquin of SMU’s student association said representatives from the university will be involved in planning and monitoring orientation week activities.
"This year, we’ve kind of taken a different approach," he said.
"We want to create a community here of pro-social bystanders where everyone is equipped with skill sets to identify a dangerous situation and then intervene."
SMU graduate student Sandra Pagnottella said she thinks it’s a good idea for the university to get involved.
"I mean, everything that happened last year is obviously not a great thing, but I’m glad that SMU is taking over and making sure that everything’s going to be done the way that they want it to be done," she said.
But Pagnottella admits it may be hard to get students to give up drinking altogether.
"Students are students, I mean everybody has their expectations of what first-year students do," she said.
Dalhousie University's student union is also making changes around what is being offered to first-year students and leaders.
"We, basically, have adapted our training to include a lot of things around sexual assault, sexual harassment prevention. Consent is a huge portion of what we’re going to be covering for first-year students, as well as our leaders," said Danny Shanahan, Dalhousie, executive vice-president of the student union
Dalhousie student Jacy Conrad said orientation week should focus more on meeting new people and less on drinking.
"Every year there's an issue with drinking in universities during frosh week, so it’s probably a good idea to tone down the drinking aspect of it," she said.