WATCH ABOVE: Two years ago, Saint Mary’s University has its reputation tarnished after the discovery of a frosh chant condoning rape and sexual assault, now the university and students are working together to make the campus a safer place. Global’s Julia Wong reports.
HALIFAX – Two years after the discovery of a frosh chant condoning rape and sexual assault, Saint Mary’s University and its students are taking steps towards changing the culture that allowed the chant in the first place.
A seminar called Safe at SMU where students discussed sexual consent was held Wednesday for more than 600 first-year students. This is the first time the sessions have been held. The university is making the interactive discussions mandatory.
“[It’s] all about understanding what it is to have consent,” said Heidi Weigand, the director of the Centre for the Study of Sport and Health who oversaw the seminar.
“The idea that consent is having the ‘yes’ and so we want to make sure students are aware, coming into university, what are the different types of situations that come up, where can the complexities be and making sure they’re keeping themselves safe and keeping their peers safe.”
The seminars are led by students like Jean Legault, who ran the workshop on sexual consent.
“It’s something students are still unsure about. It’s something we want to make very clear and make sure students are safe in situations where that becomes an issue,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is get students thinking about what constitutes consent and get them to label situations as being either safe or unsafe. In many cases, what happens is the grey area disappears.”
Dr. Esther Enns is the chair of the President’s Council Action Team, which was enacted at SMU after the scandal. She said the seminars are a direct result of recommendations to make the campus a safer place.
“We have undertaken a lot of initiatives and there’s a lot of enthusiasm across all sectors of the campus for the initiatives,” she said.
Matthew Laustsen, 18, was in high school when the frosh chant scandal came to light. He said discussions about consent are much needed.
EXTERNAL LINK: Safe at SMU videos
“It is an issue around places like this,” the first year student said. “It is something we need to address and having something like dialogue going on just keeps that relevant.”
Scott Kilmer, 17, from Edmundston, NB agrees that the discussions are pertinent.
“It’s a great idea that they’re making a big deal about sexual consent, especially since some people don’t care for it and [this] makes them care for it,” he said.
Robyn Chapman of Halifax said dialogue about the issue needs to persist.
“I think it’s a good idea that we should be learning about it,” she said.
“I feel it’s important for everybody to know and understand, especially with the things that have been happening in Halifax.”