It Happened On My Campus, Too: Rape Chants at UBC

Just two days ago, I published an article  (which was also republished on Rabble.ca) detailing my concerns about having heard misogynist lyrics being played loudly on campus during frosh week at UBC. The song, which was played at a booth run by an off-campus nightclub, right near the Student Union Building, described—repetitively—being here “for the bitches and the drinks.” I expressed my frustration at having to be exposed to such misogyny in this environment, especially when we know that sexual assaults (especially those facilitated by drugs and alcohol) and sexual harassment run rampant on so many post-secondary campuses.

Shortly after I posted my article on my blog, national news services began sharing coverage of an egregious frosh-week incident at Saint Mary’s University, which involved 80 student orientation volunteers leading a chant that promoted underage sex and rape. Every major newspaper and television station in Canada has carried the story, featuring interviews with SMU students, SMU frosh leaders, the SMU president, women’s centre and sexual assault centre staff, and concerned community members. While there have been a predictable number of individuals who have dismissed the incident as a mere moment of “juvenile ignorance,” or, as former SMU student union president Jared Perry put it, something that just happened “in the heat of the moment,” many have been quick to condemn the behaviour. SMU president Colin Dodds, in an interview with CTV Atlantic, expressed his shock at the situation, even apologizing to the family of Rehtaeh Parsons (the Halifax teenager who took her own life after being sexually assaulted and viciously taunted) for the likely impact it would have on them.

Despite my anger at the situation in Halifax, I also felt somewhat relieved. While my article about hearing misogynist music was referenced in a GlobalBC article about SMU and rape culture on campuses, what happened at SMU wasn’t happening on my campus. I mean, if the worst thing that happened at my campus at frosh week was an off-campus nightclub blasting a song about “bitches and drinks”, rather than student representatives of a university actively cheering about underage sex and sexual assault, then it couldn’t possibly get worse, right? Right?

Wrong.

Late this evening (September 6), my university’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, published an article revealing that the exact same thing had happened during Sauder FROSH, the “long-running three-day orientation organized by the Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS)” (Rosenfeld, Ubyssey). Not only was I appalled to know that the same chant apparently had a long history of being used at frosh events here at UBC, but even more appalled to hear the reactions of the FROSH co-chair and other students. Co-chair Jacqueline Chen reported to The Ubyssey that previous complaints had been articulated about the chant, but that its use during frosh week had not been prohibited. Rather, Chen says, “We let the groups know: if it happens during the group, it has to stay in the group” (Rosenfeld).

Beyond the disgust and shock that I feel towards the fact that this chant is clearly widespread among university campuses (and who knows which other university frosh weeks have also used it), I am quite literally sickened by the attitudes towards this chant. Rather than the seeming-remorse and regret expressed by SMUSA president Jared Perry, UBC students who participated in the chant do not seem particularly concerned with the fact that it was brought to light. Indeed, unlike what we heard at SMU, the UBC students interviewed seem perfectly aware of the troubling and offensive nature of the chant, but opted to keep it under wraps, or argued that it was fine since it was only chanted in less-public areas.

I am going to make it very clear why this is a problem: using secrecy to legitimize violence and sexism is precisely the tactic used by abusers and assailants themselves. Suggesting that things are “okay” so long as they are not brought into the public eye is exactly how domestic abuse continues to be perpetrated and excused. Informing people to “keep a secret” is one of the top tactics used by abusers to silence their victims.

It is reprehensible that the same rhetoric and the same dynamics of power are being used in this context.

It is shocking that at UBC, a place when students will be excused from classes on September 18th to attend events at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—which focus on the legacy of horrific abuses, including the physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children in residential schools—that callous and casual attitudes towards sexual violence are being openly flouted.

As a survivor of sexual assaults, including one that occurred on the UBC campus, I am tired of this.

As someone whose research focuses exclusively on language and its importance to cultures of sexual violence, I am tired of this.

As someone who wants a safe campus community, for my colleagues, for my mentors and supervisors, and for my own students, I am tired of this.

I am tired of living in a world where even the youth that we expect will be educated leaders of the future are engaging—and actively encouraging others to engage—in the mockery and dismissal of violence.

UBC’s motto is “Tuum Est,” which translates to “it is up to you.”

It is up to the UBC students who participated in this chant, to take true responsibility for their behaviour, and to understand why it is not even remotely something to joke about.

It is up to UBC, as a institution, to draw a line in the sand about what kind of behaviour will and will not be tolerated on campus.

It is up to UBC, as a community, to come together to stand against sexual violence. We must empower our students to call each other out when they hear or observe statements or actions that support or condone violence, so that this chant does not get simply pushed back underground, to be repeated again outside of the watchful eye of the university. We must offer support to those who may have been re-traumatized by this kind of behaviour.

For nearly 4 years, I, like many other students, have proudly called UBC my home. It’s time to make it feel safe again.

  • If you would like to contact me about this article: llorenzi@alumni.ubc.ca

Articles Referenced:

Tucker, Erika. “Difference between SMU and chants of froshes past is these students got caught.” GlobalBC. September 6th, 2013. 

Avalon Sexual Assault Centre – PRESS RELEASE: Frosh Week Chant Validates and Perpetuates Rape Culture 

Willick, Frances.  “SMU rape chant a mistake ‘heat of the moment’.” The Chronicle Herald. September 5th, 2013. 

“SMU president calls sexual assault chant ‘biggest mistake I’ve made.'” CTV Atlantic. September 5th, 2013. 

Rosenfeld, Arno. “‘N is for no consent!’ Sauder first-years led in offensive chant.” The Ubyssey. September 6th, 2013. 

Other Resources and Articles:

UBC Sexual Assault Support Centre

List of Vancouver Sexual Assault Support Centres/Crisis Lines

Draw The Line Ontario (explore your attitudes/responses to various types of sexual violence)

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27 comments

  1. Lucia ~ Excellent post. You may not remember me, but I was your TA at SFU–I never forgot you. You are a brilliant scholar, and I look forward to all that you will produce.

    1. I most certainly remember you! Thank you for encouraging me in my work, then and now. (And I’ll always remember the time you took to help me decide to apply to graduate school in the first place!)

  2. Sina Queyras/Lemon Hound, from Concordia, referenced this excellent article in a FB post today. Beautifully and rightly written; thank you! It is hard for me to believe this–or rather, it’s just so depressing. And enraging. How can these chants, these expressions, be permissible? Your article is great–will repost widely.

  3. Commerce schools…do they promote rape culture? Discuss.
    What is it about capitalism that encourages violence? Aren’t commerce schools still predominantly male-dominated, fueled by testosterone and the competitive, violent drives that implies?
    I would argue that capitalism itself is the problem. Yes, males will always be inherently aggressive and competitive (generally), due to the nature of human evolution. But I think it’s the patriarchal culture we still live in and its eat-or-be-eaten economic system that continues to breed generations of boys who grow up chanting “Y is for…” A more equal culture might develop boys who behave with more respect.
    I see these offensive incidents as an opportunity for all college women (and male allies) across Canada to pick up the abandoned banners of Feminism (after all, women wouldn’t even be in colleges but for the courage and determination of early feminists), and push for system change and true equality where mutual respect is the norm, not the exception. I don’t the gains of those who fought for equality in the ’60’s have been well-sustained, and frosh-week and online bullying incidents (as with Rehtaeh Parsons) seem to verify descent back into rape culture. Furthermore, no equality gains can ever be permanent with the continuing threat of cultures internationally that demean women, use genital mutilation, etc.
    I think it’s always wise to get to the root of a problem, not just deal with it superficially (e.g. by asking for resignations). There’s much work to be done, and I challenge all to take this as an opportunity.

  4. It’s not capitalism that encourages violence- it’s our collective open, open, open mind, as represented by the internet and all the anonymous and not so anonymous weirdness that we access that pushes familiar boundaries of tolerance further out and out- simply by exposure. I am not arguing that this is good or bad- but I suspect this is an inevitable consequence of the human mind, imagined to be simultaneously anonymous and globally digital. What boundaries exist in a digital world such as this?

  5. Thanks for bring this issue to light- here in Australia I had not heard about it.
    You make a really good point and I hope some good can come of it. We need more voices like yours (and I think we really need more male voices speaking up too) speaking out about it to help change this aspect of western culture.
    I hope you won’t have to deal with too many horrible trolls over this – I know this sort of article brings them out.
    Good luck Lucia.

  6. I am finding it difficult to comprehend how a rape chant can take place at a University, people actually know about it and it still exists. This goes way beyond ‘boys will be boys’ and their bathroom humor – it is disgusting, shameful behavior and I am in shock they don’t seem to comprehend that fact.

    1. Barbara, I am too. I’m still appalled by all of the continued excuses that are made by people who keep suggesting it’s just “a phase” that young people go through. I am trying to be hopeful that UBC (and, hopefully all universities and K-12 schools) will see this as an opportunity to make education about these issues a sustained part of the curriculum, not just a one-off workshop.

    1. We often hear the expression ‘stand up and be a man’ – and you have certainly done that !
      So thank you and ever thank you for having the guts and inner fortitude to buck the system.

  7. One of the things that chafes at me is the terms whore, slut, etc. The guys who utter this, disrespect all women and not just their family. And regardless of what a woman does with HER body is her business and should never be called these names. Rap songs and hos. Come on now!

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