Just one year after a Frosh Week chant at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) glorified non-consensual sex with underage girls, UMSU prepares for their second annual Orientation Week Frosh Festival.
Some universities across the country have taken precautionary measures to prevent and address sexual violence during their Frosh Festivals, while other universities have done away with the festival altogether.
Since the video footage of problematic behaviour at SMU went viral, Frosh Festivals have been accused of condoning and perpetuating inappropriate behaviours at the centre of sexualized violence on campus.
Saint Mary’s University mandated Frosh Week leaders and students’ union executives to attend sensitivity training, including how to confront unacceptable behaviours.
The SMU incidents have raised questions about sexualized culture on campus and how the Frosh name remains widely associated with it.
“While other university campuses have had challenges and tarnished the Frosh name, our executive and administration is extremely proud of the work that we’ve done to promote safety,” stated vice-president internal Jeremiah Kopp.
“UMSU would never condone anything that would make anyone feel unsafe.”
At the University of Manitoba, UMSU endorses Frosh Festival as the focal point of U of M Orientation Week. The students’ union is working diligently to ensure both fun and safety during the festivities.
“We really want to emphasize, first and foremost, the safety of everybody,” Kopp told the Manitoban, referring to UMSU’s priorities in preparation for the festival.
“These events are a fantastic time to party with your friends and have a great night out, but obviously everybody’s safety is a huge concern of ours.”
According to Kopp, UMSU, U of M administration, and the City of Winnipeg have been working together to ensure adequate levels of security during Frosh by reaching an agreement to supply 23 police officers to monitor the event.
But some academics and activists have noted sexual violence affects women at disproportionate rates, and that increased police presence does little to stop sexual assault.
In an article published earlier this month by the Winnipeg Free Press, U of M sociology professor Mary-Anne Kandrack and media critic Jean Kilbourne argue that society needs to re-examine the starring role of alcohol in our culture.
The UMSU vice-president advocacy, Rebecca Kunzman, told the Manitoban, “It’s not so much Frosh – it’s the situation – the idea that there is alcohol involved, and it’s a sexually charged environment. In any situation like that, it’s about being cognizant [about the situation].”
Upon witnessing any form of violence or sexual harassment, Orientation Week volunteers are trained to contact security. Kunzman explained that although there are not security guards everywhere; there are volunteers everywhere – and it’s about maintaining open lines of communication between security and volunteers.
Kunzman and Kopp both highlighted the role of some student groups to ensure safe environments.
During social events like Frosh, Kopp told the Manitoban that the Red Frogs “promote having safe spaces for students when there is alcohol at an event [ . . . ] and promote that you can have fun in a non-alcoholic environment.”
The Red Frog tents may be found in locations on the Fort Garry campus near beer tents and some other venues on campus that sell alcohol during Frosh Festival.