Trigger warning: This editorial contains discussion of rape and rape culture.
Since the beginning of this academic term, rape culture has pervaded university campuses as chants promoting the rape of underage girls rang through Frosh events.
On September 4, Saint Mary’s University in Halifax made headlines when a video of Frosh featured students chanting, among other lines, “U is for underage” and “N is for no consent.” This was followed by an incident at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Commerce Frosh, where promotion of rape was integrated into almost identical Frosh chants.
At UBC, two Commerce Undergraduate Society executives have resigned due to the incident, and the University has suspended Commerce Frosh until positive change occurs. At Saint Mary’s, students and faculty reacted strongly – one graduate from the university has returned his degrees in protest, while the Saint Mary’s Women’s Centre held a rally that 200 students attended.
However, as Frosh comes to an end, so too will a vast majority of media attention to the issue of consent. The promotion of rape culture at Saint Mary’s and UBC are far from isolated cases of endorsing rape culture. Tolerance of rape culture will continue to permeate university campuses throughout the year, in more insidious ways than hard-to-ignore instances of literally encouraging rape.
Anti-consent chants work to normalize a culture of sexual assault. Perhaps this is why, in a climate where at least one in four women in post-secondary education will experience sexual assault in their academic career, the majority of sexual assault on campuses and elsewhere goes unreported.
Anti-rape culture campaigns have long existed on campuses, including the Canadian Federation of Students’ 20-year-old “No Means No” campaign – and yet the chants still happen. Even though “no means no” and “consent is sexy” buttons have become increasingly visible on campuses in recent years, these initiatives are not without limitations. Anti-rape campaigns themselves focus on predominant notions of consent as a verbal event of yes or no rather than a continual process.
Over the past few years, Frosh organizers at McGill have tried to facilitate a more inclusive space for students by promoting equitable chants and implementing more sensitivity training for leaders; whether this has made a large impact or not remains to be seen. Groups such as the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), the Union for Gender Empowerment, and Rez Project, among others, continue to actively inform the campus community of the issues of rape culture and how it is perpetuated both in obvious and discreet ways.
As mainstream media attention wanes, McGill must remain aware and vigilant of the ways this type of language condones an acceptance of sexual assault.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board