Trigger warning: rape, sexual assualt

In the past few weeks, Canadian media has played a significant role in publicizing a story about an Instagram video where frosh week leaders at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Nova Scotia chanted an offensive cheer promoting non-consensual sex:
“SMU boys we like them YOUNG. Y is for Your Sister, O is for Oh so tight, U is for Underage, N is for No Consent, G is for Grab that Ass.”

Canada’s reaction to the cheer as a country was one of disgust and anger. The story ran as a top story on CBC news for nights following the incident. It attracted hundreds of online comments, and the video was shared rapidly on the internet, alongside angry status updates.

All eyes were on SMU’s administration, who solemnly swore to investigate and take disciplinary action. One result of this video has been the resignation of SMU’s Student President, Jared Perry, and Vice President, Carrigan Desjardins.

When Canada demanded an explanation, student leaders at SMU explained that the cheer was not new, but, in fact, had been passed down from year to year. They were quick to promise that this year was the cheer’s last.

The fiery reaction from Canadians and the media to the controversy demonstrates a message much more positive than the one in the cheer: Society has changed. This is an old cheer, words and beliefs held by a previous generation of leaders and older societal values (or lackthereof).

This year, the chant struck a chord in the Canadian public and came off as offensive and as a production of rape culture. Over past years, there has been increasing awareness about sexual assault and its seriousness. While there is still a long way to go before society is completely free of rape culture, the response of Canadians to the SMU cheer incident is a sign in the right direction.

University administration at SMU has promised to take disciplinary action, and pledged that all students involved would have to partake in sensitivity workshops. Former student leaders, Perry and Desjardins, both resigned. Two students, who remain unnamed as per university policy, will be tried for violation of the University Code of Conduct, and could face penalties such as fines, suspension, and expulsion from the institution.

However, this is not enough. It would benefit SMU as an organization and as a community if they implemented more active and thorough awareness campaigns similar to Trent University’s own Consent is Sexy campaign.

SMU should consider adding interactive sessions such as “Let’s Talk About Sex” onto the frosh week agenda and throughout the year.

Instead of condemning leaders involved in the incident, it would beneficial to provide them with sex positivity and awareness training that would enable them to be better leaders.

Some student leaders also alleged that faculty made them feel bullied or intimidated after the incident. Administration responded to these complaints by acknowledging that some faculty chose to address the issue in the classroom on their own, leaving some students uncomfortable. SMU’s reaction was disorganized, and there were more attempts made to punish and discipline, instead of reconstructing and build more positivity and change.

A similar cheer occurred at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Business. However, instead of ending with “G is for Grab that Ass,” the final line is “G is for Go to Jail.”

Some argue that this modification does not condone non-consensual sex with underage women, because the final sentiment warns that there are severe consequences for raping underage women.

Many argue that that difference is not enough, though, and that it still crosses a line. Administration at the UBC School of Business condemn the incidents. The cheer reportedly took place on a bus, and was not a sanctioned frosh week cheer, but it was enough for administration to consider cancelling their support for future frosh weeks. They will work with the student body to reconstruct and revamp introductory week.

It is clear that next year’s frosh weeks will be the subject of public scrutiny from student leaders, university administrations, and the Canadian media.

In the upcoming year, institutions will have enough time to construct sex-positive communities, instead of those  from past where little was said on the matter, or where sexual assault was not condemned at all.