Too racy

Why a group of University of Waterloo engineers were suspended over a series of bikini-clad pics

Too racy Pictures of a bikini-clad woman posing next to a race car were splashed on auto blogs as far away as Italy last week, but not for the usual reason. The woman was, in fact, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Waterloo who had worked on the chassis design for the student-built car, and the dust-up was over the fact that the 20-year-old, and her entire team, had been reprimanded for the “unauthorized photo shoot” in U of W’s lab.

Some students commend the decision. But many say the punishment was unfair and sends the wrong message to female engineering students. (At Waterloo, women make up 17 per cent of the engineering class.)

The full-length bikini shot was a requirement for a charity calendar the student hoped to be selected for, according to Michael Seliske, who took the pictures last month. “She wanted to show that she’s both feminine and capable of working on cars,” says Seliske, a third-year computer engineering student, who uploaded the photos to his blog. (The student in the pictures declined to be interviewed.)

Trouble is, they eventually caught the attention of Adel Sedra, the dean of engineering, who deemed the photos “denigrating to women” and a “setback” for the school. So he suspended the entire race car team from entering the lab until June, which means they won’t be able to prepare for a competition in Michigan next month. It’s a race they’ve each spent 30 to 40 hours a week getting ready for, says disappointed team leader Francis Loh, a master’s of systems design student. “We accept that there was a mistake. But we think the punishment was too harsh.” Many team members didn’t even learn of the shoot, he claims, until they were punished.

The controversy has sparked plenty of debate in the hallways of Waterloo’s engineering building and on multiple Facebook pages. Some students are questioning the fairness of Sedra’s decision, especially considering the fact that the student herself commissioned the photos. Cailin Hillier, of the Waterloo Engineering Society, considers the photographs empowering. “Women should be allowed to wear what they like,” she says.

A similar conclusion was reached by many of the students who attended a forum on sexism in engineering that took place on Waterloo’s campus the day before the punishment was handed down. A central theme was that many female engineering students feel they’re expected to dress in traditionally male garb. “We talked about how female students shouldn’t feel they won’t be taken seriously if they don’t dress like a man,” says Hiller. “But that’s what [Sedra] is reinforcing.”

Sedra says that he’s merely trying to create an environment where all students feel comfortable. “If someone comes into the lab wearing shorts—man or woman—we don’t say, ‘Why are you wearing shorts?’ ” he explains. “But a bikini in the lab? That is not appropriate in any workplace.”

Though third-year computer engineering student Bhavya Khashyap doesn’t think the punishment necessarily fits the offence, she agrees with Sedra’s assessment that labs should be navel-free zones. “That’s not my idea of empowerment,” she says.




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Too racy

  1. Dean Sedra took a teachable moment from a questionable student's choice in an otherwise positive story, and taught that Waterloo engineering makes questionable decisions with draconian group punishments based on patently bogus justification. I do not think that Sedra's choice will increase UW engineering's female percentage from it's current 17%.

  2. As a Waterloo alumnus, I say booo PC.

    These people are adults. Time to treat them as such.

  3. This photo is not the one that was posted online by the photographer and is an altered version of the original which was explicitly stated in the agreement not to do. The editors have edited the photo so the background is more visible which is not the original intent of the photographer. Does anyone know how to handle this type of breach of copyright/ agreement, I am pissed.

    "…Please remember that because these images are protected by Federal Copyright laws they may not be altered, copied, transmitted or used in any way without prior written consent of the copyright owner…" What part of altered do they not understand.

    • Contact MacLeans and/or the author directly. Ask to have the original picture replaced or taken down altogether.

    • Oh settle down. Altering the brightness/contrast ratios is not the same as altering a photograph. Why does everyone with a digital camera think he's an artist with something worth copyrighting?

      • Um Mike is an actual photographer. This is his business and he is protecting his work.

    • Apparently the photo was edited to facilitate printing and the web editor posted the print copy online. They switched it back to the original one.

  4. It was 20% women when I went, just sayin'.

    Either way, the comments are spot on. Deans of engineering are notriously draconian in their applcation of the "rules". Mr. Sedra, these are adults, not your children, not some doe-eyed innocents whom you need to protect from themeselves.

  5. I am no longer trusting MacLeans for any sort of information since this story is altered and misrepresentative of what actually happened, and the implications of those actions.

  6. A fuddy duddy dean, a rebellious student group, it's 'Animal House' all over again. So crash the parade! You'll be a success in real life, which Waterloo U is certainly not.

  7. The dean should be proud of this, it would send a signal that a beautiful and sexy woman can be smart as well. This is obviously done as tongue in cheek fun. Why do we women have to hide our femininity should we wish to be taken seriously? Who made this idiotic rules up? Is Canada turning into a Islamic nation without us being aware of it? Could the dean be sued for this draconian rule?

  8. You better go back to journalism school, Josh, as you have a lot to learn about accurate reporting and your writing is pretty weak.

  9. As an alumnus and a female engineer, I am ashamed of the dean's knee-jerk reaction. What an overreaction.

  10. If you think the Dean was over-reacting, you can thank the militant feminists. Clearly, this is the wrong decision, but can anyone blame the dean for trying to avoid the Globe and Mail headline, “Sexist engineering school still see’s women as sex objects!!”

    The Dean was trying to be proactively politically correct. As ususal, it was the wrong move.

  11. I think the Dean should take it upon himself to contact each and every fire department in Ontario that participates in charity calendars.  It is demeaning to these hard working men to be treated as sex objects. It makes the firefighters without the 6 packs feel uncomfortable.  And as the Dean pointed out, it is hardly appropriate in any workplace.

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