Saint Mary’s University orientation week, the backdrop for the infamous SMU rape chant, is home to even more sexual controversy. The university’s orientation week also introduced new students to their campus by having them act out sexual positions in front of their peers.
Elizabeth MacKay, a third-year student studying psychology at the university, says one of the orientation week events offered at Saint Mary’s during the event Turf Burn, involved students acting out inappropriate sexual positions which each other in front of a group, as an icebreaker activity.
MacKay attended the event during her orientation week two years ago and says, she was paired up with a young man she had never met before.
The students were put into two lines and while orientation week leaders shouted out sexual positions, including “sixty-nine” and “doggy-style,” the students were told to run into the middle of the group with their partner and act it out, she says.
MacKay says the leaders didn’t explain to the students what they were expected to do when she first agreed to play the game. When she was told to act out “doggy-style” on her first turn, she refused.
The group made fun of her when she didn’t want to participate. “Everyone was jeering when I walked off,” MacKay says. Fellow students and frosh leaders told her “oh come on don’t be lame.”
MacKay wasn’t the only one.
Sarah MacLeod, a third-year NSCAD University student who lived in Saint Mary’s residence during her first year, attended SMU’s orientation week that year and recalls the same “sexual positions” event. MacLeod says people who didn’t want to play or who left because they were uncomfortable, were called “no fun” by the frosh leaders.
MacLeod says one of the reasons that she didn’t want to participate was because the male leaders running the activity were making inappropriate comments about the bodies of the young women who were playing.
“It was really awful,” MacLeod says.
“That is shocking and inappropriate that it would be happening,” says Wayne MacKay, a professor at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law who is leading a task force, which is addressing sexist behaviour on Saint Mary’s campus. MacKay says he hadn’t heard of these specific allegations but that the task force would be interested in hearing about them.
Turf Burn, an orientation week event made up of a variety of icebreaker games, was the backdrop for the infamous Saint Mary’s rape chant at this year’s orientation week.
The chant, lead by orientation week leaders at the university, gained notoriety around the country for its inappropriate and sexually explicit nature, and it was not an isolated event.
“It was the same when I was there, everything was sexual,” Elizabeth MacKay says. “They try to draw people into frosh week with the college and partying lifestyle,” she says.
“I don’t have a problem with partying but they’re not taught to do it safely. And in the case of our frosh week, they weren’t taught respect towards women,” she continues.
MacKay says she would like to see orientation week provide opportunities where students can truly get to know each other. “That’s what orientation week is supposed to be about and I didn’t get to know anybody. I was expected to pretend to do doggy-style with some guy I didn’t know,” she says.
MacKay says she didn’t formally complain about the event when it happened because she didn’t feel entitled to as a first year student.
Asked to comment on their orientation week programming Gorba Bhandari, the student union president, says the union is focusing on moving forward and changing the culture around safety, respect and sexual assault prevention. He will not comment on MacKay’s and MacLeod’s specific allegations, or on the event Turf Burn.