Orientation week leaders at Carleton University have apologized for wearing shirts that ridiculed the school's "safe space" policy after photos were circulated widely on social media.

The photos depict students at an off-campus party on Sunday, Sept., 7. The students were wearing black shirts with the words "F--k safe space" on them.

While the event was not an officially sanctioned orientation week activity, some of the students wearing the shirts "were orientation facilitators," wrote Carleton president Roseann O’Reilly Runte in an emailed statement.

Students photographed with 'F--- safe space' shirts

Images of students at an off-campus party who were wearing these T-shirts were condemned by many Twitter and Facebook users. (Leslie Robertson/Twitter)

"Such behaviour is not acceptable and extremely disappointing to the broader Carleton community. Those involved have indicated that they will issue a sincere public apology and work with the university to ensure that such behaviour does not occur again in the future," Runte wrote. "Sanctions will be issued subsequent to individual meetings."

Student leaders offer apology, pledge community service

On Monday evening, a group of students identifying themselves as "Your 'Join the Conspiracy' Team Leaders​", sent an email to the university community, apologizing for the shirts.

"While our intentions were not to harm or disrespect anyone, the T-shirts in question were without a doubt inappropriate, inconsiderate, offensive and disgraceful. Intent is not an excuse for impact and we take full responsibility for the seriousness of our actions," the email said.

"In this moment we are reminded of our influence on not just current and incoming Carleton University students but also our community. It pains us to know that we have tarnished the name of our institution and the hard work of thousands of students, staff and faculty in creating a safe and inclusive environment."

The email said the student leaders involved have pledged to "engage in community service with various services on and off our campus throughout the academic year."

Safe space policy more than 10 years old

The safe space policy at Carleton, which has been in place for more than 10 years, says students should feel safe from all forms of discrimination on campus.

Julie Lalonde, a Carleton graduate who helped create the sexual assault centre at Carleton, said the message sent by the shirts is appalling.

"Safe space is a policy at Carleton that says all spaces and all events that are Carleton sanctioned should be anti-oppressive, which means they have to be free of hate speech, racism, misogyny, homophobia, all of those things," she said.

Some Carleton frosh leaders took to Twitter on Sunday to say the shirts weren't meant to be offensive, and that the intention was to protest a university policy prohibiting student leaders from swearing during frosh week activities.

Fourth-year student Ellen Cottee said the shirts sent the wrong message.

"I was kind of grossed out, and disgusted and personally hurt. Because safe space... means I can say things, I can talk about things and feel safe. And I can feel safe walking on my campus."

Universities are increasingly being asked to monitor student behaviour, particularly during orientation week, after a number of high-profile incidents at Canadian universities where students leaders were viewed as promoting sexist or homophobic behaviour.

On Friday, a Carleton student was charged with three counts of sexual assault in incidents involving three alleged victims who work at the school.


  • An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the email apology came from a student identified as Chris Cline. Cline is not a student but the media relations officer for Carleton and was only sharing the email apology to the media.
    Sep 09, 2014 7:51 AM ET