In defence of Frosh Week

Emma Teitel champions all that’s good in the first week of first year


Russell Smith, in the Globe and Mail, would like you to know Frosh Week is disgusting and boring, and drinking is deeply boring. Those are some of the reasons he thinks universities should do away with the matriculation ritual that tends to include binge drinking, dancing and making friends with whom you will drink and dance for the next four years. (Boring, right?)

Smith’s visceral dislike for frosh activities is the aftermath of his own “miserable” experience. A Queen’s University alum, Smith recalls the gruelling and often unhygienic initiation rites inflicted on 17-year-old engineering students. He argues that the brightest minds wait out the debauchery in their dorm rooms, praying the school year will bring real fun—the kind that involves learning and all that jazz.

It’s no coincidence that Smith’s takedown came shortly after this week’s wildly stupid and offensive bi-coastal misogyny display in which students at SMU and UBC were caught on camera reciting poorly written chants about the thrills of sexually assaulting underage girls. It was a double whammy to our national ego. Canada’s emerging scholars: too base to respect the laws of consent, too dim to write a rhyming couplet.  Smith’s antidote to this apparent problem is to one-up the dean of UBC’s business school—who has suspended funding for Frosh Week in light of the scandal—and eliminate the event from college calendars forever.

In his words: “Universities can teach maturity. They can teach teenagers how to be adults and that means to function outside a clique or a tribe. Frosh-week bonding makes a fetish of immaturity. It serves no pedagogic function and universities should stop encouraging it.”

Making regular use of the campus showers serves no pedagogic function either, yet for some reason universities tend to encourage that too.

Of course Frosh Week activities that include drunken rape tributes must be banned. But the first week of first year can be — and is — a cause for good in this world.

My experience at the University of King’s College was not at all similar to what Smith describes. Yes there were parties and drinking, but there was also a clubs fair, a tour of the city, several sporting events and countless other activities for those who wished to safeguard their livers and their dignity. Even our debauchery was nerdy (King’s hosts a Dante’s Inferno party in the dorms every year; each floor is decorated to look like a different level of hell). And Smith’s alma mater — not to mention hundreds of other schools that do philanthropic work — raises an incredible amount of money for charity during Frosh Week through such events as Shinerama. For every beer-gargling, sexual-assault-happy jerk that exists on a Canadian campus, there are a dozen cool people just looking to have a good time–and maybe contribute a few dollars to that bake sale in the quad.

The answer to this month’s pro-rape demonstration is not to get rid of Frosh Week — an action that would only give limerick-challenged Cretans far more power than they deserve. The answer is in a community response like this, or this:

And yes, that delightfully earnest video was the work of students, not loco parentis. What Smith’s proposal, and others like it represent, beyond a deep disdain for anything that smells like team spirit, is a creeping paternalism all too familiar on university campuses today. It assumes young people can’t follow their own consciences without a helping hand. It bemoans “hook-up culture” — the novel notion that young women enjoy sex — and it assumes that two odious chants represent the attitudes of the national student body. The biggest contributors to the puerility of campus culture, it seems, aren’t students themselves, but adults who can’t let go.

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In defence of Frosh Week

  1. Emma Teitel: smart, eloquent and 100% spot on.

  2. Sorry, I’m with Russell Smith on this. It’s long past time someone spoke out about the ‘partay’ culture our universities promote.

    You are at university to learn, to get an education, to discover how to deal with the world….you are not there to get drunk and stupid and pee on someone’s lawn.

    You should be expected to behave as an adult….at an adult endeavour.

    ‘Team spirit’ is a high school thing….although I never understood why it exists there either. It’s a level of education, not a tribe.

    Really….we can do better than this.

    • I agree with your second statement, Emily, but the notion that University is a place to party while avoiding the nuisance of class is a symptom of a larger problem. We ARE at school to learn how to deal with the world. Attending highly focused classes with little diversity in subject is precisely why our students are increasingly incapable of doing so. The drive to get the best “bang for ones buck” out of an undergraduate degree has transformed Universities from a place of discussion and academic engagement to a collection, largely, of degree factories – students attend class, chase after marks, and try to minimize the amount of time they “waste” thinking about their subjects. This system is not producing thinkers, its producing task-completers.

      • To discover how to deal with the world involves the acquisition of knowledge…the same knowledge other world citizens have….and the ability to use it. Preferably in new ways.

        Universities as a ‘place of discussion and academic engagement’ is a 19th century concept…..for people who have the leisure time, and the inclination to sit around for hours discussing the ideas in arts and humanities.

        Finished up by the Grand Tour in Europe. Something wealthy young men from the upper classes used to do.

        Today people have very little time, large bills, and see themselves more as ‘customers’….they are buying knowledge. ‘Thinking’ has to be done while travelling on buses, wiping tables at Timmies or just before sleep.

        There is no ‘Walden’ experience possible.

        If we want our young people to be more engaged and thoughtful…..we are going to have to revamp education and upgrade it to the 21st century.

        Otherwise the students are going to go for the ‘pressure-relieving’ idea of the ‘partay’ culture….and that’s something that isn’t doing any of us any good.

        • Some balance is needed, Emily. In any profession some level of social skills and networking are needed, and things like Frosh Week help to kick-start networks and help people get over social awkwardness.
          Do some carry it too far? Absolutely! We have had some pretty sad examples of that this year.
          “Social media” make a great enhancement to – but are not a substitute for – in-person interactions.
          I made friends in university that I am still in touch with thirty years later. I made those friends through events like Frosh Week – not in the lecture halls.
          Yes, some fools spent waaay too much time on the “partay” side; many of them never graduated. But a good many of us who made it through came away with far more than just academic skills – and the social skills I learned and the connections I made have probably served me as well as the academics.

          • American tosh….British unis deal with such nonsense rather abruptly.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • Emily, check out St Andrews – Raisin Monday. And, by the way, it’s considered the number two University in UK

          • Fancy dress and a foam fight is minor compared to the hazing and brutality here…the top two unis in the UK are Oxford and Cambridge. And in the world St Andrews ranks in the top ten.

            Brits also have to go through a lot more to qualify for university, and are treated as adults while there.

          • Yes, you are right my wise alter-ego, However, those with no social skills might not recognize the need for social interaction with living, breathing people. Rather, they might spend ALL of their time on the internet. Those kinds of people might amass…oh say 7800 + comments on Discus?!

          • LOL For those of you who are so concerned with numbers, you might want to check out FV….who has only been here a short time and yet has run up over 10,000 comments

            Oh wait….she’s a Con so it’s okay.

          • Concerned about your numbers…what? No! Just wondering about your social skills. Perhaps Francien has none either but her posts are pretty much ALL political. Your comments however, are indicative of a complete lack of empathy for human frailty, even in children and teens. Very curious.

          • Nope…..not in the least. Cons seem to be though. LOL

            My social skills have never been in question…..and while I have empathy for others….I don’t believe in mollycoddling either.

            I’m more a ‘tough love’ kind of person.

          • So you want to tell young people what they should or should not do. I am a firm believer in letting others learn from their mistakes. I guess I studied too much psychology.

          • Literacy would have been a nice addition. Parenting is another handy skill.

          • Oh yes, everything was so much better when I was young…These youngsters today – tut, tut, tut.

          • Ahhh you missed the whole 21st century globalization future shock thing eh?

            Give it up ‘JanBC’……you’re a total loss.

          • You’re the one yearning for well behaved young people. And bringing out the word Global everytime someone challenges you is getting tedious.
            We all know you’re a global something or other because you tell us that constantly. Meanwhile you’re clutching your pearls over some kids getting drunk.

          • Again your literacy skills are in question.

            I expect adults to act like adults.

            Must be your guilty conscience. LOL

          • Just in case ther is any doubt on this, I hereby question your social skills. Your posts are often little more than shrill mischaracterization and ad hominem attacks. I’m sure you will appreciate this tough love.

          • Oh did you think this was a tea party?

            I thought it was a comment site for adults.

          • Check her feed – she doesn’t just post on here – she spends as much time on here, if not more on the National Post site.

          • And that matters….why?

          • Yours appears to be exclusively Macleans.

          • Really? That’s nice.

        • Whether the pressures of “today” allow for it or not, the reality is that young people do not mature over night. They do not walk out of the doors of high school as young care free party animals and two months later enter university as mature career driven adults. University is the first time they are away from the protective coddling of their parents. At the University of Calgary, the administrators have a meeting with parents telling them “do not contact the university or your children’s professors. Your children are adults now. You cannot be running interference for them here.” University is a place where many of these young adults will be living on their own; make decisions to spend money on alcohol at the expense of their food budget and learning to live with people outside their family of origin. In short, not only are they studying likely harder than ever have but they are growing up. They are also learning the necessity to balance their work, study and social lives. You might be right that it should be all business and it usually is for “mature” (older & married) students but for the young newly emancipated students, that isn’t the reality. They are homesick for their high school friends and families and the social connections are a big part of their ultimate success at the institution. Many who are away from home for the first time and do not participate in campus activities drop out and return home. Also, many tend settle down after first year when they have made good friends. Otherwise, they don’t end up successful in their studies.

          • They don’t walk out of high school as ‘young carefree party animals…..!’

            They are young adults, and should be treated as such.

            Others manage it….so can Canadians.

          • Hahaha! It isn’t an insult. I have one myself that just walked out of high school as a “young carefree party animal.” Some of her friends aren’t even 18 years old and they have started university in a distant place. They are not ‘young adults’ yet. As for “others” managing it…no they aren’t. They are growing up at university as well, just like our young Canadians are.

          • Then it’s the parenting that’s the problem. Didn’t you raise them with any social skills? Why do you expect a university to do so?

            In other nations young people behave better…..even going to other countries for their education.

            Amazing that ours can ‘learn’ about drinking, drugs, sex and rioting in a flash…..but the studying and homework they’ve been doing for years supposedly….escapes them

          • Gawd you sound like my mother back in the day. I don’t know where or when you went to university but I hit UVic in 1966 right out of a strict girls boarding school. It was instant sex, drugs and rock and roll. We protested the Viet Nam War, occupied university buildings to demand the university do certain things. Acid was making it’s first appearance.
            Some people dropped out pretty quickly, others didn’t. It was a learning experience in every sense of the word. The idea that 18 year olds know what they want to do or study and just get to it without distraction is just silly.

          • That, m’dear, is YOUR problem.

          • So what university did you go to where this wasn’t happening? Uvic was considered sleepy and small town compared to the big city universities.

          • It doesn’t matter which university you go to….what matters is how you behave at one.

          • How Victorian. It couldn’t have been U of T because I went to Ryerson after two years and they were into a whole new category of what you would consider behaving badly.

          • The Victorians had an empire….we were colonials. Perhaps because that’s how we behave.

          • Ha – google ‘binge drinking British universities’ and fire up some Monty Python.

          • Yeah, they have somewhat of a drinking problem….pubs are part of British working class culture after all….but they don’t do anything like American and Canadian unis and colleges.

            Python was a 70s thing.

          • What?! Are you illiterate? I told you my daughter just graduated high school as a carefree party animal and you questioned her social skills. The girl has social skills in spades, hence “the carefree party animal moniker.” What she is missing is real world experiences. She is getting those now as she is living on her own. I don’t have to turn her into a disillusioned, unhappy, bitter but driven materialist consumer. If she is like you, Emily, she will get there all on her own. I just hope that unlike you, she arrives there with a few of her ideals and a good portion of her empathy still intact.

          • Had anyone called my kids ‘carefree party animals’ there would have been hell to pay.

            Going out to ‘partay’ requires no social skills at all.

            Don’t blame me for your lack of parenting.

          • “Blame you?” Why would I blame you when my daughter is a happy, well adjusted, friendly young woman with a love of life and a very bright future ahead of her? I PITY you because you are so rigid in your beliefs that there is only one road to success. Your emotional IQ is zero and if parenting is responsible for how people turn out, your own parents must have been atrocious.
            Oh and please, stop with the ‘partay’ business. That term is so 1990’s.

          • Thank you….stick to that when she gets into trouble

          • I have a 25 year old married daughter who is her doppelganger and is a very successful. She is in upper management and owns her own home. I won’t hold my breath that either will be getting into any trouble because I haven’t and I was an innocent, carefree party animal upon graduation from high school too.

          • Yes, we can tell.

          • Thank you, I will take that as a compliment because I am sure you can tell I haven’t gotten in any trouble.

          • ‘Trouble’ isn’t the criteria here…brains are.

          • Just as we did. – apparently others arrived wearing sensible shoes and went straight to the library to study.

          • Ya, Gawd what a drag Emily must have been at university. I can’t imagine sharing a dorm room with her.

          • Socially, Emily was born 65 years old. Intellectually, she remains mired in adolescence.

          • Clearly her personality has developed little in the 40 years since then.

          • LOL JanWrong… and HI…and Ranter….all still mentally back in high school….trying so hard to be with the ‘in crowd’ and sound ‘clever’ and attack the non-conformist you missed the article by Russell Smith that Teitel was writing about.

            Tsk tsk tsk. You learned nothing from university for all your claims of social skills.

            Shoulda been plumbers.

          • As a student at King’s, I assure you it is more than just parties and binge drink and all that jazz. One of the frosh activites was to see a wondeful play at a local theatre, another event had a bouncy castle and cotton candy galore. All in all pretty rad and mature things if you ask me.

          • A bouncy castle and cotton candy?

            Oh yeah, rad and mature. [rolls eyes]

          • C’mon, What constitutes maturity to you? Giving up on simple pleasures? Who says these things are for children, yourself? On what basis, the fact you would feel mocked by your peers if you enjoyed them? Maturity is not so much what you do in your spare time, but the way in which you do it. Drinking can be done maturely, same with anything else if done in the proper way.

          • A person off to university should, at a minimum, know how to shake hands, how to introduce people, how to dance, what fork to use, how to mingle at a reception, how to behave at a meeting, how to have a drink without getting drunk, how to give a speech, how to talk to people of all ages………

            Normal adult social behavior.

            The university and community should provide a bus tour of the campus, and then the city, and a one-year online subscription to the local newspaper. That would give students local news, job ads, entertainment listings and so on.

            You know….something more useful than crawling through fish guts and getting blind drunk.

          • Straight out of a 1950’s etiquette book. How progressive.

          • Actually, it’s called civilized behavior.

          • “What fork to use.” Sure, because students are so flush with cash that fancy dinners will be a mainstay. Your wannabe elitism is showing on that post.

          • Students are there to become lawyers, doctors, diplomats, scientists, professors etc….which will require them to know something about etiquette post-pizza.

            Are you seriously arguing that manners are elitist??


          • No, I’m arguing that shallow people who would look down on someone for using the seafood fork for their salad are the ones exercising poor manners and demonstrating classlessness. Part of being “classy” is not placing undue emphasis on such meaningless details. Manners are what your grandma taught you – likely many of the things you now reject.

            And by the way, just as many of those students will become baristas at Starbucks, where I assure you, there exists only one kind of fork.

          • LOL you always pretend to be rightwing….then you argue leftwing nonsense.

            Capitalism is all about getting ahead, dude…..not remaining a worker on the line and singing Solidarity Forever. LOL

          • Sure, because salad fork vs. seafood fork is totally a left wing – right wing sort of discussion. Like everything else in your world.

          • LOL that one’s lame, even for you.

          • For someone who is constantly disrespectful of the British royalty, you certainly are class conscious yourself, “Lady Emily”. You constantly put on airs based on education when in truth you have never displayed any proof of your superior knowledge in any scholarly pursuit. Any uneducated person can quote from Wikipedia.
            As for claiming that people who empathize with our youth are “mentally back in high school”, that is completely unfounded. Just because a mature adult can relate to a young person, it doesn’t make them one of them. If we didn’t have people who could relate to our youth, we wouldn’t have any decent school teachers, or healthcare practitioners who specialize in the care of the young.

          • Class doesn’t come from birth these days, hon. It has to do with brains.

            If you cared about our youth, you’d want them to grow up with some..

          • Irony alert!

          • It was something you never did, so your comment is wasted.

          • That doesn’t even make sense.

          • Neither do you. Go bore somebody else.

          • As a fan of science, I am sure you know that scientific research shows that the human brain doesn’t mature until age 25. Your expectation that “our youth” who are age 17 to 18 years of age should emerge from high school with “grown up” brains is not realistic. Of course your modus operandi, Emily is simply to deny what the scientific research tells us is true. In that you are just like the climate change deniers you are always admonishing.

          • In a great many people I’ve noticed it never matures at all

            People have driven cars, started businesses, achieved advanced degrees, operated on people, married, had children and built a life by 25 over thousands of year…..yet apparently our kids can’t even manage manners.

          • I am wondering the same about people over 65?

          • Well check in a mirror, granny.

          • Class and brains not evident in that. Maybe less time worrying about the silverware.

          • Emily, you are 67+ years old and you have thus far displayed the worst manners of ANY person who has commented on this website. The fact that the writers of the magazine have actually had to admonish you on several occasions for your behavior should be an indication that you need to moderate your writing and yet you show absolutely no insight into your ability to infuriate and offend everyone you encounter, including JanBC who was someone who you obviously had some sort of prior amiable relationship with.

          • Well since you consider lying outright as mannerly, there is no point discussing anything with you.

            I have no idea who JanBC is…..but I find it remarkable she turns up whenever you do…..sounds as rude as you as well.

          • Amnesia of convenience.

          • Come back and lecture us on class when you develop some. In the meantime, start with this little nugget: Class doesn’t mean knowing what fork to use.

          • Yes, actually it does.

            Your class is visible at the table….yours is apparently non-existent.

          • Sorry but class has much, much deeper meaning than that to most of us. You subscribe to the most shallow, artificial, vapid interpretation of the concept, and that surprises no one.

          • Whatever. Your problem.

          • ‘Whatever’? You see right there is that an educated, classy response? I’ll answer that for you – not it isn’t. It’s the kind of thing a 13 year old does before she flounces out of the room.

          • I wouldn’t know. Never happened in my family.

            Now like I said….go bore someone else.


          • Ciao doesn’t work on me and is really getting tedious. And you know it’s the casual way of saying goodbye as in ‘see you later’.

          • You are hopelessly behind the times. The real elitism these days is in what you eat and drink.

  3. Frosh week is necessary. Not only does it help students get to know each other better in social situations, but it helps to create a community within your residence. Although you are always going to have a few people who aren’t going to abide by the rules, a few rotten apples shouldn’t spoil it for everyone else.
    Frosh week is normally the week where you forge relationships and friendships for life. These people that you “adventure” with become your new family, and through the experiences (not necessarily just partying) you are able to bond with the house you were just thrown into.

    Look at Harry Potter as an example, yes it’s a book for teens but look at the lessons. You are thrown into a dorm with 500 other individuals who you now must learn to live with. These people will be from everywhere and will have different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. You are away from the family for the first time, and you are finally living a life with less “rules”.

    Socializing is the one constant, universities have not always been around in fact they only date back to the times of Plato. Socializing and gatherings are the ways of human life. Frosh week should not necessarily have just a “Party” concept to it, but it should definitely appeal to the masses.

    We cannot hold ourselves to the standards of the past, times change and as the times change so do the perceptions we have towards what it is we do. We had Justin Trudeau recently admit to smoking pot, in the United States that has been seen as enough to deny entry into the country recently. Everything is not black and white, yes immaturity has run rampant throughout society but that is something that is caused by us.

    There’s a saying, there’s no such thing as a bad pet, just a bad pet owner. Apply this to parenting.

  4. Once again Emma, you’ve made an astute and eloquent rebuttal. TEITEL 4 LIFE

  5. As a current student at King’s (and a Frosh Leader this year), I can certainly attest not only to the relative moderation of the Frosh Week we put on, but also the indispensable role it plays in developing an *academic* community on campus. Its simply ridiculous to think that a university education can be reduced to the 40-odd classes a student takes; if that were the case, I would encourage Mr. Smith to save his money and send his children (if he has any) to the library, and advise them to log on to some opencourse online lectures. King’s is absolutely a “special case”: we offer only one holistic first year programme, and three upper year programmes – all focused on an interdisciplinary approach to the humanities. This is not an environment where learning is delineated into three-hour chunks five times a week and supplemented only by hours spent alone completing assignments – conversation and participation in the philosophical traditions we study is essential. Conversation cannot happen without community. Our Frosh Week, above all, is about establishing a community conducive to this type of discourse – a direct academic benefit. We are concerned with establishing clear standards of behaviour during the week: “don’t put the student run bar in jeopardy by drinking underage,” “respect the spaces you visit, inside and outside of our quad,” “respect your fellow students, particularly when your perspectives may not align.” If these don’t sound like productive and mature goals, I don’t know what would. Community, conversation, and engagement are the things that Universities and Colleges *really* have to offer. Instead of promoting spending these two to four year as a mole-person, why not embrace the social wealth our schools have to offer.

  6. Let’s put this in a bit of context here.

    Somewhere between around one-in-five women taking a five year college degree will be raped or sexually assaulted at least once. About half of those incidents involve drinking on the part of one or both parties. If you’re going to a “party school”, then the odds of sexual violence nudge upwards; if you’re not, they nudge downwards. To say that this is a severe problem is an understatement. Despite popular culture’s suggestions to the contrary, you’re much more likely to be sexually assaulted on campus than you are in prison (20% to 10%, respectively), and there’s a lot more people that go to college than go to prison.

    The pro-rape chants aren’t the problem; they’re a (minor) symptom of the much more serious problem that there are many college students who don’t understand or don’t care about consent when it comes to sexual activity. Like it or not, the college party culture is a big part of the problem. If the students themselves and the student unions aren’t willing to take an active role in solving the problem, the crisis is bad enough that universities should absolutely be taking steps to intervene at this point.

    Relevant link:

  7. As a UKC grad myself – even from the “bad old days” when drinking was more of a fixture than now – my memories are solely of how incredibly welcoming, fun, and comforting frosh week was. Fears of moving to another part of the country and starting a new stage of my life were instantly quelled, on arriving to a week of new friends and experiences that would stay with me forever. Interesting how those have stayed with me, ultimately being more valuable that most of the “learning” from my liberal arts degree ever was. it saddens me to see how our knee-jerk bubble wrap culture now follows students into adulthood, meaning that most of what I experienced is now banned.

  8. My husband had a horrible experience at Queen’s in the early 90’s complete with sexist chants crawling through fish guts and he said it definitely felt mandatory. It was definitely an atmosphere of “bro” culture. Our son recently finished his first week in Ottawa. We are happy to say his experience was completely different. Lots of fun new friends and all without having to go through Hell Day.

    • ‘Crawling through fish guts’….well now there’s an adult intellectual pursuit our unis should promote. Not.

      • Not everything that happens at universities has to do with intellectual pursuit. That’s why they have things like sports and music. It is not a monastic environment. I guess the one you attended was, which you won’t tell us.

        • Well jan would know which one.

          • You have never said where you studied – all you ever said was you were in the military, never a mention of your studies – just that you are an economist. So what institutions did you attend?

          • Not on here I haven’t. Have never said I was an economist either. The real jan knows though.

            Give it up…..Cons don’t need a F&W temp after all….Rick is back… you’re SOL

          • Patrick in Mission…try and accept reality. Meanwhile go out on your deck and tell some kid to get off the lawn.

          • Patrick in Mission? My deck? Maybe you’ve clutched your pearls once too often and your engine died.

          • If you don’t remember our old Bourque mutual acquaintence from Mission – you really are losing it. Deck – as in your new condo – assuming it has one. Just because we both dislike Harper intensely doesn’t mean we have anything in common. Get over it.

          • Sorry,,,,no condo, no deck, no Patrick from Mission.

            You are quite different than janbc….she had brains and manners….and certainly a better memory. LOL

          • Posted as ah – anything at all – former PC, supported the new party for a while, finally saw the light – anything?

          • Sorry…’re entertaining though.

          • Wow. Do you remember being ‘Nola’ on Bourque?

          • No, but I seem to remember your mother making money on the side with a crystal ball and tarot cards. Or maybe it was palm-reading.

            Because you are pulling the same kind of nonsense.

          • She died in 1979, long before either of us were on the internet. OK, then – if that’s the way you want to okay this, see you on the trail.

          • Kay….happy trails to you, Buttermilk.

          • Well I know which one you went to and they kicked you out for promiscuous alternative behaviours, failing grades and smoking kangaroo manure.

    • Coincidentally, those universities known for their joie-de-vivre – queens, western, mcgill – are also our nation’s finest institutions.

    • If he felt it was mandatory, he wasn’t too bright. Or lacked the confidence to just say no to such silliness.

  9. Frosh week is pretty lame in my opinion. It is a total waste, very disruptive. Not at all in keeping with the reason they are there.

    • Absolutely agree.