Update: Sheldon Levy, the president of Ryerson University just released a letter harshly denouncing Thursday’s hazing.
Dear Ryerson Engineering Students,
One of the most effective first steps used to dehumanize people is to ask them to take off their clothes in the presence of fully dressed leaders. This practice is so effective it’s become a standard procedure in the military, prisons, gulags and the TSA. Luckily for air travellers, the humiliation only goes as far as a strip-search.
Commanding people to crawl on the ground is an effective technique that’s particularly favoured by the military and people in sadomasochist relationships. In the gulags they’d make people line up outside and stand naked in the snow. Regardless of their tactics militaries, prisons, gulags, gangs and the Ryerson University Engineering program have at least one thing in common- each has an established tradition of dehumanizing initiation rituals…
What happened on Thursday was wrong on so many levels- it was an assault on the dignity of your fellow students, and a black mark on your school. This type of behaviour is also contrary to the ethos of this country- Canadians believe that all people have the right to live in dignity and peace.
The most common objection I’ve received to my criticism is that this event was voluntary, and people had the option of not attending. This is complete rubbish. First there’s the obvious issue of peer pressure and pecking orders, it can be very difficult to fit in and excel within the group when you’re left standing on the sidelines. In the many years you’ve been exercising this “tradition” some people have undoubtedly been hurt.
According to one of the comments your fellow students posted yesterday, there’s evidence some people were physically harmed:
“The slapper, if you will was the same person who was administering bandages, taking care of all the minor cuts or whatever on peoples elbows, knees etc. I distinctly remember, when I was out of breath during my run in the quad, he came up to me and asked, “You okay bro?””
Before you continue reading, try and see how many things you can find wrong with this paragraph. First, there’s the obvious issue that asking people to crawl across the pond/rink resulted in physical damage to their bodies- this is clearly in violation of Ryerson’s Code of Conduct:
“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.”
Did you notice that there’s no mention of an exemption for voluntary events? Ryerson’s policy could, indeed, be more clear in this area, McGill’s policy is more comprehensive when it comes to consent: (Ryerson, can you please fix this?)
“Moreover, it is not an excuse that the new members voluntarily engaged in the activity; their willingness to participate plays absolutely no role in determining whether or not the activity constitutes hazing. There are inherent power imbalances that exist when new teammates seek acceptance within a team or group. New teammates often feel the need to endure hazing rituals and ‘consent’ to participate because they perceive their participation as a condition to gain entrance and social acceptance to the team milieu.”
In 2009, Ryerson’s Manager of Interuniversity Sports made a very clear and powerful statement on hazing in The EyeOpener:
“It’s one of the worst forms of bullying”
Let’s go back to that comment from your fellow student. The “slapper” they were referring to was the man who slapped a woman on her rear in the midldle of a crowd full of strangers. Some of the observers had cameras, others were that woman’s peers- people she’ll have to work with in the future. Is it possible someone could misperceive how ‘innocent’ this act was? (If they’re in an intimate relationship, I offer myself as an example.)
Outside of the University of Toronto’s epic sex club adventure, it’s hard to think where it’s acceptable for a student to slap another on the behind (even then it wasn’t really acceptable). This rule goes tenfold when the person slapping is in a position of power. You can double the score if the person being slapped is of an opposite gender, and bonus points if she’s cold, vulnerable, scantily dressed and scraping her skin while crawling through dirty slush.
Well, at least the guy who slapped her helped put on the bandages afterwards- let’s just hope he didn’t offer to kiss anything better…
Next, let’s address the many problematic accessibility issues with this event, many of you have written saying this experience is an essential part of your organization’s team building- how many people have been pushed out of this important ritual because of circumstances outside their control?
Those who have physical disabilities will probably have to sit this one out, it’s hard to slither across a dirty pond if you walk with crutches or a cane. Students of certain religions won’t be able to partake by default- if there’s an engineering student who wears a veil, she’s unlikely to be walking around in her underwear. Some people with body issues may feel too uncomfortable to join. And, people who’ve been victims of sexual assault may have been horrified by this event.
But that’s alright- the healthy, heathen (kidding), buff kids all had the most fabulous day!
You may have been too busy studying for exams to have read this week’s edition of the EyeOpener, but there’s a battle happening at Ryerson this week over the rights of some students to setup a group dedicated to men’s issues. The Ryerson Student Union (which, I suspect, doesn’t represent the values of many engineering students) has been actively trying to block this group forming- despite the fact they’ve not provided solid evidence to back their case.
The leaders in the RSU will, undoubtedly, take a very vocal stand about what happened on Thursday- given their history of fighting against sexual harassment, and their Consent Is Sexy campaign, they’ll have to speak out. And, now, those in the RSU who want to shut-down the speech of the men’s group have a little bit more ammunition. Great work!
Which Ryerson tradition is more important to you- hazing and humiliating fellow students, or the right to hear the ideas from people of a diversity of opinions? If you’re graduating this year do you have an obligation to care? I’d like to ask you to take a moment and think about the legacy you’re leaving for your school, our community, and the future of your profession.
Are you building a better future, or continuing a tradition that may be harmful to others?
The engineering profession has received a lot of criticism for being a boy’s club that’s somewhat inaccessible to women. Having rituals that involve asking women to strip down to their underwear will undoubtedly result in some women deciding to enter alternative programs. When engineers learn in school that it’s okay to smack a woman’s behind at an official event, this sort of behaviour moves onto the workplace. If any of these activities happened at a corporate, government or non-profit organization we’d likely to see mass firings.
I’ve been hard in my reaction, and some of you are probably feeling a bit bad now. Don’t sweat it, just look at this as an experience that will help you navigate the (less forgiving) channels of your career. If you want to make things better, stand-up and suggest ways to improve the Frosh experience next year. Try to find something inclusive, fun for everyone, and something that enriches people’s lives and builds on your love for each other.
Some of you have written some very ugly responses to me trying to justify what happened. Perhaps you were a bit hot-headed and hurt at the moment- I can understand that, and won’t hold it against you. I will, however, ask that you write me an apology for what you’ve said. In return, I’ll erase the comments you made here or on my YouTube page, all will be forgotten, and your apology will be kept private.
Thanks for listening, and good luck on your upcoming exams.