VANCOUVER – The University of British Columbia’s business school is contributing $200,000 to expand sexual assault counselling and education for students after an undergraduate society at the centre of a pro-rape frosh chant voted not to provide those funds.
UBC President Stephen Toope had recommended in September that the Commerce Undergraduate Society make a $250,000 contribution to fund a new three-year councillor position after the society was implicated in a frosh week chant glorifying the abuse of underaged girls.
The society has already given $50,000. However, about 70 per cent of members who participated voted not to contribute the remaining $200,000 during a referendum, which the society says must be held whenever a large expenditure is involved.
Robert Helsley, dean of the Sauder School of Business, said he was “deeply disappointed” to hear of the voting results, especially in light of six reported incidents of sexual assault on campus which have resulted in heightened security around the school in recent weeks.
“I’m aware this will be very disappointing to our wider community,” he told reporters on Monday. “I’m not prepared to speculate on why the students chose not to support the referendum.”
The same frosh chant was sung at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. While a UBC report in September found no evidence that any of the commerce student leaders planned or directed students to use the chant, it said they should be held accountable for not stopping anyone from using it.
Sean Fleming, president of the Commerce Undergraduate Society, said Monday the society wants to address the issue of sexual violence, but it prefers a broader response to the problem.
“This vote doesn’t reflect an indifference or insensitivity to this issue on campus, but rather, a disagreement about the best way to tackle it within our community,” he said.
Fleming said student leaders have already completed anti-violence training and have participated in roundtable discussions about sexual violence. They will also be participating in anti-discrimination training, he said.
The university announced a special panel to look at ways to prevent sexual harassment on campus, and Helsley said on Monday the proposed sexual assault counsellor position will be funded by the Sauder School of Business and UBC.
However, Helsley said he still expects the Commerce Undergraduate Society to “fulfill their obligations” to the school.
“The referendum has obviously indicated that the particular mechanism that was before them was not the right one, so we’re looking for some leadership from them in articulating what they feel would be a more appropriate way for them to live up to their obligations,” he said.
UBC biochemistry student Carol Johnson said the society should have donated the money.
“I think it only makes sense for them to give money to counselling to help people who are going through this,” she said.
Leo Robinovitch, a mechanical engineering student, agreed.
“When you so outwardly make such a terrible chant, and have that represent you, you need to respond to that positively or you’re not doing a very good job,” he said.
Robinovitch said he was shocked when he heard the frosh chant was sung at his school.
“I know if I had been there, I would have been like, ‘There’s no way I’m saying this, I’m not being part of something good right now,’ and either would have left or stood up to that,” he said.
Note to readers: This is a corrected version. A previous version says the Commerce Undergraduate Society voted not to donate $250,000.