I was walking out of the Eaton Centre this afternoon, at Dundas Square, when I saw a group of Ryerson students run past in what first appeared to be some sort of a group prank. There were two distinct groups- those who were wearing coveralls with “Ryerson Engineering” logos on them, and another group who were wearing either their underwear or t-shirts and shorts.
It was quickly apparent that the students in the coveralls were in-charge. Some of those in coveralls were spraying super-sized squirt guns on the scantily dressed students, others were yelling commands at them like drill sergeants. While some of the students were having a great time, it was obvious that others weren’t. You could see the mix of anger, humiliation and cold on their faces (it was about +1 Celsius at the time).
The leaders stopped the group when they arrived at the skating rink at Victoria & Gould. Then, in what looked like a spontaneous decision, one of the leaders told the unclothed students they need to get down on the ground and crawl/slither their bodies across the mixture of ice, slush, open concrete and water on the surface of the rink. Horrified, I pulled out my camera and started recording.
As the junior students pushed their exposed bodies across the ice, the leaders in their coveralls screamed out at them like drill sergeants. Most of the people on the ground were far from impressed- but, when they started to get up, the senior students would start pointing at them and yelling at them to get back on the ground. What was being done to these students was unhealthy, humiliating and glaringly abusive.
At one point, when most of those crawling had already crossed, a male student in a tracksuit (most were male) leaned over behind one of the half-dressed female students and smacked her on her behind. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
When all of the students had finished this miserable task, I asked one of the leaders what was happening. He told me that it was a “cross-leader initiation”.Ryerson University has very straightforward, and clearly written rules about hazing- specifically mentioning initiations:
“Students shall not engage in any act which endangers, or could reasonably be seen to endanger the mental or physical health or safety of a student, for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, a group or organization.”
What happened today appears to have clearly violated this policy. Equally, when the male student smacked the female student in the ass (in-public) this must be contrary to the school’s sexual harassment policy. Asking young women to run around in their underwear probably isn’t so kosher either.
Hazing is an issue that’s taken very seriously in Canadian universities, as is sexual harassment. In 2009, Ottawa’s Carlton University suspended an entire women’s soccer team for a hazing incident that supposedly included the use of alcohol. In 2005, Montreal’s McGill university cancelled an entire football season after a student was sexually assaulted with a broomstick. Fredrickton’s St. Thomas university had a hazing related death in 2010.
I shared this video on my Facebook and Twitter account this afternoon to gauge other people’s reaction to what happened. Everyone responded with anger and distaste. Toronto city councillor Shelley Carroll (and former trustee on the Toronto school board had the most perfectly succinct response:
Indeed, they totally crossed the line. It’s 2013 now and, somehow, students at Ryerson think it’s acceptable to haze and sexually humiliate their fellow students. There’s a serious problem, and an urgent need for an investigation…