By Nicole Skripkariuk
It was the chant that echoed across Canada: “SMU boys, we like them young. Y is for your sister. O is for oh so tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass.”
Coined the “rape chant” for its glorification of sexual assault, the cheer showed up during frosh week at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University. A video went viral after it was originally posted to Instagram. Then it happened again at the University of British Columbia’s frosh events for the Sauder School of Business (UBC students swapped “SMU” with “UBC” and changed the last line to “G is for go to jail”).
One week. Two chants. On each side of the country.
University officials were quick to respond. In the weeks that followed, investigations were launched, student leaders resigned, and other students were assigned to undergo sensitivity training. The Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS) at UBC cancelled the remaining orientation events after the Sauder School pulled its support for frosh.
Administrators were poised to send a clear message: the university does not condone such sexist behavior nor is it a reflection of the attitudes held by the student body.
I don’t think they’re right. The chants signal an issue deeply rooted in the culture on college campuses across the country. Punitive measures are temporary solutions. University officials need to address the root causes of the problem – the ideologies and behaviors that contribute to a culture of violence towards women.
Problematic ideas of manhood help perpetuate violence against women. Jeff Perera, co-founder of the Ryerson White Ribbon Campaign (a coalition aimed at redefining masculinity and engaging men in ending violence against women), says a lot of traditions on campus centre on a “bro culture” and hyper-masculine ideas of manhood. The formula for what it means to be a man is a “narrow, unattainable standard that devalues anything feminine.” This includes the female body.
A cheer encouraging non-consensual sex with underage girls demonstrates that dominance and control still underpin modern definitions of masculinity. We need to take an introspective look at the culture we manifest and reinforce through our thoughts and actions, or our inaction.
The frosh week cheers are not isolated incidents. The Huffington Post reported that complaints of inappropriate chants surfaced at UBC as early as 2009. The concerns were aired during a CUS meeting. Sauder School Dean Robert Helsley released a statement saying he was unaware of the chant until the incident that occurred during frosh week 2013. Likewise, SMU officials denied having any prior knowledge of the chant. This plea of ignorance, true or not, accomplishes nothing.
School officials need to man up and own what happens on their campus. The administration can set the tone and promote healthy, healing attitudes. CBC reported that SMU frosh leaders involved in the chant report being bullied by faculty. (It’s an interesting approach, responding to harassment with further harassment.) This institutionalization of bullying only perpetuates a culture of discrimination and violence on campus.
We need to create areas for discussion that engage young men. Establish safe spaces for students to communicate and respectfully air grievances. (Vandalizing campus property with “f— rape culture” and “Sauder teaches rape” doesn’t count.) Initiate educational programs aimed at dissecting the destructive standards that define manhood. Recruit respected men in the community to lead such forums. If you don’t start somewhere, you’ll get nowhere.
The events at SMU and UBC highlight an issue that has been prevalent across university campuses for decades. We must look at the events as an opportunity to create the change we want to see. Otherwise, such incidents will continue to uphold traditions of manhood that reinforce male dominance, feed into rape culture, and marginalize women.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on September 18, 2013.