On Campus

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.