As summer starts to fade into fall and the leaves start to turn to brilliant shades of crimson and ochre, I always find myself pining a little for my days as a university student in Halifax. Each new year brought the exciting promise of new adventures and new opportunities both intellectual and social.
From the moment I walked into the Quad at the University of King’s College as a frosh, those in charge of introducing us to life at King’s made me feel welcome. Unlike the frosh weeks at other Halifax schools at the time where incoming students were expected to bond through minor humiliations and light hazing, we were taken on field trips around the city, invited to parties and given the lowdown about what we could expect in our first year classes. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to my university career.
That idyllic revere was shattered when I read about a chant performed by students at Halifax’s St. Mary’s University, which seemed to advocate and glorify non-consensual sex with underage girls.
The story seemed unbelievable. How could in this day and age a chant like that ever be thought to be OK? Why, as reportedly the chant had been performed for several years, had no one complained about it before? Where was the leadership and oversight on behalf of the university and the students’ union?
While not seeking to excuse the group’s despicable actions, this incident seems to have been caused by a confluence of tradition and mindless mob mentality.
When something is presented as a “tradition,” people tend to look uncritically at it, as if the sages of the ages had given it their blessing and therefore it should remain unchanged until the end of time. Times change and things that once may have been acceptable (although I can’t conceive of a time when this particular chant should have been considered acceptable) need to change to reflect the new reality.
However, if no one stands up against a so-called traditions then a tacit agreement is made that it is OK, even if it may make some within the larger group uncomfortable. Watching the video of the incident, you see both male and female frosh leaders clapping, smiling and chanting along. And while it can be very difficult to stand up to a group of your peers, it is still shocking that until a video of the chant was posted to Instagram, nobody did.
I would like to believe that none of those who took part in the chant actually agreed with the messages they were spewing and, while I have no special knowledge that would confirm it, I would imagine that if you had asked all those involved prior to this scandal coming to light if any of the sexual practices mentioned in the chant were acceptable, close to 100 percent would have said no.
But the concern is for that small number of those in that crowd, and society at large, who will see that level of seeming acceptance and use it as licence to commit horrific acts. That’s why chants like this are far from harmless and why it’s important to empower people to come forward whenever something like this occurs.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor of Hamilton Community News.