A former student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax returned two degrees Tuesday that he earned 18 years ago at the school, saying he’s disgusted by a chant sung at frosh week that glorified the sexual assault of underage girls.
Trailed by a group of reporters, Daren Miller of Calgary walked to the school’s campus carrying his bachelor’s degrees in arts and commerce where he was met by the university’s registrar, Paul Dixon.
The two exchanged few words before Dixon took the scrolls and walked away.
“To me, those degrees are valueless,” said Miller, 42. “I wanted to distance myself (from) the embarrassment and shame I felt from this sort of culture.
“I am not that kind of guy.”
The school made headlines recently after a video surfaced online showing student leaders singing the chant to about 400 new students at a frosh-week event. The song spelled out the word ‘young’ with the lyrics, “Y is for your sister … U is for underage, N is for no consent.”
Miller, a father of two girls, said it took him two minutes to decide he no longer wanted the degrees he spent five years earning after seeing the chant at his alma mater. He travelled to Halifax from Calgary, where he works as a chartered financial analyst, specifically to hand the papers back.
He said he has also removed his affiliation with the university on his resume.
“I come to Saint Mary’s first and foremost as an outraged father,” Miller said at a news conference before he returned the degrees. “I have two young daughters, aged five and seven. In the current climate at Saint Mary’s University, I could not imagine sending them there.”
University spokesman Steve Proctor said the school respects Miller’s right to protest.
“Although we would prefer to keep (the degrees) in trust for him until we can win back his confidence as we move forward, if he chooses to return it, then we choose to accept it,” said Proctor, adding that university president Colin Dodds was willing to meet with Miller but the former student declined.
Proctor also said the university is taking steps to ensure students feel safe and respected, pointing to the creation of a special panel that will look at ways to prevent sexual harassment on campus. The team of five women and three men is expected to produce its findings by mid-December after consulting with students, faculty and alumni.
Miller was joined in his march to the university by advocates for women’s rights and members of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, who are fighting to save a century-old women’s hospital and home for unwed mothers. Saint Mary’s University purchased the Halifax Infants’ Home in 1998 and is debating whether to tear it down.
Members of the heritage trust say preserving the brick building would show the university takes women’s rights seriously.
Stella Lord, a retired professor of women’s studies at Saint Mary’s University, said she believes there is a history of sexism and a lack of support for women at the school that needs to change.
“Perhaps the university needs to be more cognizant and concerned about what appears to be the development of a more aggressive culture of male entitlement that fosters disrespect for women,” said Lord, reading from an open letter written to Dodds.
“After this latest nasty incident, Saint Mary’s University must demonstrate that it is part of the solution, and not part of the problem,” she continued.
“You and your colleagues need to ensure the campus is safer for women, a more respectful and woman-friendly place.”
Proctor said the university is facing the challenge of repairing its reputation head-on. He said the school has reached out to alumni after the chant in the hope that former students will be willing to share positive memories of their time on campus.
“I truly think at the end of the day, the Saint Mary’s that I know and love will shine through” he said.