Engineering students who made classmates crawl through the slush of Lake Devo in sub-zero temperatures last Thursday sparked anger and controversy from school administrators and public figures, but they will not be reprimanded for their actions.
Student leaders met with administrators Monday to apologize and promise measures to prevent similar events from occurring.
The apology came after a media storm of criticism from social media and public figures, who denounced the activity as a form of hazing.
“I think that they (hazing rituals) are dangerous, and that we have to do everything to make sure that all our students, in whatever institution, are safe,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.
President Sheldon Levy also criticized the actions of frosh leaders in a written statement released Saturday.
“Anyone who contends it is ‘just fun’ or ‘builds community’ has no place at Ryerson,” wrote Levy.
The seventh annual spring event organized by the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS) welcomed aspiring engineering frosh week leaders to earn a pair of engineering coveralls called “covies,” signalling their selection as frosh leaders. This year’s ritual was open to all new leaders and had first-, second-, and third-year participants.
A YouTube video showed senior frosh leaders yelling at the participants with megaphones and spraying them with water guns. In one instance, a male student slaps the buttocks of a female participant as she tries to stay low to the ground.
RESS president Rose Ghamari said the media coverage hasn’t done the event justice.
“A lot of things were taken out of context and they didn’t get the full story. So it made it look a lot worse than it actually was,” said Ghamari. In the bum slapping incident for example, Ghamari said the two students involved are friends.
The RESS said the activity was completely voluntary and that calling it an “initiation” is incorrect.
“It’s not a requirement but it’s strongly encouraged. It’s voluntary. We don’t force them,” said frosh leader Urshia Nasir at the annual event. “Otherwise it would be hazing.”
And Ghamari agrees. “The event was not mandatory. All of the people who participated have already chosen to be orientation week leaders,” said Ghamari, adding that those who chose not to participate will still be orientation week leaders in the fall. “It was just a spirit event. No sort of initiation or evaluation of any sort.”
However, one first-year engineering student, speaking on the condition his name would not be used, said the Ryerson Engineer Frosh Leaders Facebook page asked that leaders not speak to anyone about the incident. And several students approached by The Ryersonian declined comment.
Levy said he defines hazing as: “anything that puts someone either in a position that in any way degrades the dignity of their personal dignity.” But he did not label the event as such.
“It was an event that was certainly inconsistent with any of the values that I’ve seen with this university,” he said.
After news about the incident broke, Bruce Wood, an anti-hazing activist, wrote an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail about the meaning of “fun hazing.”
“I don’t believe in the idea of voluntary,” said Wood. “I think that’s a myth and I think that’s the last line of defence by those who want to continue to see this type of behaviour taking place. I think it’s really naive to think it’s 100 per cent voluntary.”
But Ghamari says that stripping down to undergarments was completely optional.
“It’s just something that has been done in the past so the students, the participants, decided to carry forward the tradition. No one was asked to take off any clothes or anything like that; it’s just how people decided to show up.”
She also insists that changes will be made going forward.
“Some things did get out of hand this year so that’s why the Ryerson Engineering Student Society is going to be enforcing a best practices manual with guidelines and things like that to ensure that inappropriate incidents don’t happen again,” said Ghamari.
Levy says the university must move forward by following the academic and non-academic polices already in place.