Graduating McMaster University engineering students won’t be allowed to raise a glass of alcohol to celebrate their achievements at their year-end formal later this month. That’s because the university’s administration banned the faculty from serving alcohol at its events pending a report into a misogynistic songbook distributed during frosh week.
But students are pushing back. They say all 4,000 of them they shouldn’t be punished. A petition on Change.org reads in part, “an entire faculty feels separated and discriminated against by both other faculties and their own dean who was supposed to stand-up [sic] for their rights.” It has more than 1,100 signatures but the administration isn’t budging.
The songbook in question says it was produced by the Redsuits, a group of enthusiastic upper-year engineering students who assist first-year students during the first week of school each year. They’re named for the colour of the attire they wear that week to distinguish them from frosh leaders in other faculties.
Udoka Okafor, a third-year justice, political philosophy and law student, posted the controversial songbook on her blog in September where she pointed out the misogyny.
The lyrics are very offensive and their authors clearly knew it. “This document is designed to be a chronicle of all the filthy, disgusting, hilarious verses that Mac Eng uses in our chants, songs and cheers,” it starts off before 35 pages of swearing and sexist cheers.
Okafor wrote that she was offended by the sexism. “These chants demonstrate in large part, the demon that I and so many other women, and men allies, are trying so hard to fight against.”
After the controversy was covered by national news media, all the Redsuits were banned from campus social events and next year’s frosh week, known as Welcome Week, and the university launched an external investigation.
Gordon Arbeau, McMaster’s director of public and government affairs, says the ban is meant to keep students safe and won’t be lifted anytime soon. He calls the songbook, “repugnant and despicable.”
Simon Almeida, a fifth-year engineering student, launched the Change.org petition. In an e-mail, he wrote that the university is judging all engineers as guilty, “before any due process has occurred.”
Arbeau says students are encouraged to share their opinions and have been doing so for the duration of the investigation. He says the university is eager to have it conclude and, “nothing has been predetermined or prejudged.” He says the external investigator will present findings as soon as possible and that bar service is not required for students to enjoy events.
Okafor, who posted the songbook, agrees with the temporary alcohol ban. “The university should have taken action a long time ago.”