As someone who works with some of the largest universities in Canada, the news breaking this past week of the chant during O-Week (Orientation) at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia was saddening (click here to read). Now some people in Canada are wondering if this situation is due to campuses not caring about sexual assault, especially for incoming students.
The schools I work with throughout Canada take sexual assault education during Orientation very seriously – so much so that the “Can I Kiss You?” presentation is the featured keynote speech for their incoming students. In just 6 days in Canada, I spoke to more students than I would typically speak with in 2 full weeks of speaking on campuses in the United States of America. The Canadian campuses I am blessed to work with do an incredible job of making sure every student gets the how-to skills for reducing sexual violence and for supporting survivors. Two examples are the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph where we speak to almost 5,000 students at each school.
What is concerning is the comments by students at St. Mary’s University AFTER the video of the chant went viral. An administrator said he didn’t believe any student was actually okay with what they were saying. Well, students proved him wrong with the following comments:
“We thought it was funny,” said Siobhan Evans. ”We were all just excited … I don’t regret it.”
“It wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m not a feminist kind of person. It didn’t affect me personally,” said second-year psychology student Amanda Fougere.
These reactions are the scary part of this story. The concept of “It didn’t affect me personally” is sad. How about the survivors on campus? Do you care about them? How about the incoming students who may have just learned that sexual assault and specifically consent is being made into a joke on the campus they are just starting to attend? Do you care about them?
How about Rehtaeh Parsons? How do you think her family feels hearing this happening on a college campus in their country? Rehtaeh’s case has been front page news in Canada. Due to her case, increased awareness and talks discussing sexual assault were happening more in the public arena than ever before. The student leaders involved should have known better (even before the Rehtaeh Parson’s case).
In the comments sections on news sites, you still see lots of people saying, “What is the big deal? Its kids having fun!” What part of mocking consent and rape is funny? Most of us can think of lots of elements of sex that can be funny, but consent or rape?
One of the key elements of getting change to occur on in any community is getting each person to realize his/her role and the NEED TO CARE. For a campus to be its safest, that campus needs each student to take ownership of their community and for looking out for each other. Hopefully St. Mary’s can do some programming to help the students realize how their actions DID IMPACT people’s lives and in turn that impacts everyone’s life on that campus.