HALIFAX – Saint Mary’s University is making some key changes to its orientation week for first-year students, one year after video of a controversial chant condoning rape went viral.
The video shows student leaders leading a chant that makes reference to non-consensual sex with an underage girl.
Welcome Week leaders will now undergo two days of training and sign a ‘Charter of Reponsibility.’ The university has also created a full-time staff position to oversee orientation events throughout the year.
Orientation activities will now be organized and vetted by a steering committee comprised of faculty, staff and students.
“Everything has built up to something that needed a huge change and it needed a change very quickly,” said student Rory Boutilier.
“I think going in this direction will be more tame. Yes, university’s supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be enjoyable for everybody but it doesn’t have to be offensive.”
In the wake of the controversy, a council was created to make recommendations for change on campus. The panel charged with implementing those recommendations offered an update on Wednesday.
Panel member and dean of science, Steven Smith, said orientation events will be a better mix of academics and integrating students into campus life.
“I think something that I’ve wanted for some time as a dean has been to make sure that the academic elements are within orientation week,” Smith said.
“We wanted to make sure that what we were able to do was explain to the students what it means to be a student here [...] in terms of how they’re going to be successful when they get to their classes on Wednesday.”
James Patriquin, Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Student Relations with the student union, expects students will welcome the new changes.
“From what I’ve heard from new and returning students, they have a very positive outlook on this year,” he said.
He also said he has felt a sense of collaboration between students and administration in the year since the controversy.
“The experience I’ve had has been everyone wanting to cooperate to use what happened in September of last year as a learning experience and an opportunity for Saint Mary’s to display leadership,” he said.
As part of the recommendations, the university is also focusing on year-round education programs that deal with consent, sexual assault, as well as drug and alcohol use.
WATCH: Heightened attention on this year’s incoming freshman class following ‘rape chant’ controversy
In the early fall, the university will implement a University of New Hampshire program that will train student leaders, faculty and staff on their role as bystanders. The training focuses on understanding and preventing sexualized violence.
All this is welcome news for students and parents alike.
Janis Patrick, who was on campus with her son Richard as he prepared for the new school year, said last year’s chant was upsetting.
“As a mother, a woman, I certainly don’t want that,” she said. “I’m the mother of a son and I certainly don’t want him to treat women like that. I’ve raised him otherwise so I’m really glad the university has moved forward to change what they did and to make it better now.”
Her son also applauded the changes and said he hoped some good would come from the incident.
“I think there are a lot of issues like this that can happen at other campuses and I think in a sense, Saint Mary’s has dealt with this very well,” he said.
“The way they’ve dealt with it is such that maybe it has inspired other universities to take a look at their what they’re doing in their frosh weeks and try to move forward.”
Welcome Week events will begin this weekend as students move into residences, and classes are set to resume next Wednesday.