Simon Fraser University has launched an investigation after a controversial video on National Sweater Day appeared on its YouTube page.
A link to the video was emailed to faculty members on Wednesday. Lisa Craig, an associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, said when she first received the email, she didn’t immediately open it. A short while later, another email was sent by a female faculty member calling attention to the video and how sexist and inappropriate she felt it was.
“I couldn’t believe that something…I thought maybe it was a joke, that this was a throwback to the 50s,” Craig said.
The video shows a female professor — Ms. Pinkham — turning down the thermostat and donning a fitted pink sweater, all in the name of National Sweater Day and energy conservation. Her change in wardrobe catches the eye of a young male student.
“Ms. Pinkham?” he said.
“Yes, Chad?” she responds.
“Nice sweater,” he remarks.
“Thank you,” she responds.
“Thank you,” he said.
Craig said the video missed the mark on many levels.
“That a woman — any professional — but a faculty woman at SFU would be depicted in this way, that she would be referred to by her student as Ms. Pinkham and not Dr. or Professor Pinkham, that she would be sitting in her office playing solitaire and that she would be so tickled and flattered that this student would compliment her on her sweater,” said Craig.
“It just did not fit with anything I’ve seen with women faculty or any professionals here at SFU. It seemed totally inappropriate and insulting.”
Fellow professor Elise Chenier, who teaches history at SFU, said she too was disappointed.
“It seemed so hurtful to characterize female faculty in such an incredibly sexualized way,” she said. “I have to say, it felt a little bit like a punch in the stomach.”
Both professors say that within about an hour of faculty voicing their collective concern to the university, SFU quickly removed the video from their YouTube channel.
The school has also apologized to its faculty. In a statement, vice president of external relations Joanne Curry said the video was produced by an external vendor and she hadn’t seen it before it was brought to her attention Wednesday.
“When I did watch it, I immediately agreed with the feedback we had received that the video is inappropriate, sexist, and not in keeping with our equity commitments. We took steps to remove the video as quickly as possible and have followed up with the group who produced and distributed the video to ensure it will no longer be used.”
Curry said an investigation has been launched to find out why the video was ever posted in the first place.
The controversial video comes on the heels of a study revealing wage inequality between male and female research faculty members at the institution.
Chenier, who wrote a blog post about the video, says the incident presents an opportunity to address outstanding issues.
“Address the wage inequalities that exist, address the fact that there is no sexual assault centre on campus,” said Chenier, adding that SFU is taking steps to have such a centre opened in the near future.
Both Chenier and Craig said they’re pleased with how quickly the university responded to their concerns.