Though I couldn’t wait for orientation to end, I did learn a few valuable lessons about respecting the students around me at an optional short conference on campus culture and etiquette.
The key word is “optional.” If frosh week had a mandatory component that taught all students about what’s expected of them, instead of just how to get drunk in the beer gardens, I think universities could prevent incidents like Saint Mary’s rape-referencing orientation chant.
Although my session mainly focused on keeping one’s voice down in the library and holding back PDAs, the training could be broadened to include more serious types of behaviour. If students were told on day one that even joking about non-consensual sex isn’t tolerated, maybe fewer or no people would have been screaming that offensive song about sexually assaulting little sisters.
The etiquette session could include a form of sensitivity training. More than 80 SMU students will attend mandatory sensitivity training. Why not preempt that by making every student aware of when jokes cross a line? And not just about sexual assault, but racism, homophobia and sexism too.
Mandatory training may sound impossible but after the University of Montana determined there was a culture of rape on campus it began requiring all students to take a video tutorial on sexual assault and score 100 per cent on a test before starting second semester. That’s not a bad idea.
It isn’t easy transitioning from high school to the independence and responsibility of university. Orientation weeks should be used to educate first-year students on proper conduct and encourage the secure environment that universities ought to provide—whether students like it or not.
Ravanne Lawday is in year three of an English degree at the University of Alberta.