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Rape Chants: An Opportunity for Universities to Educate and Enlighten

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Rape Chant at Saint Mary's University
Rape Chant at Saint Mary's University

Judy and Larry Haiven's excellent article, Saint Mary’s Community Needs to Stop and Think and Learn, is precisely what is required in response to the "rape chant" issue -- a wider discussion of the issues of sexism and misogyny as reflected by this incident. The more so, since recent reports of this same "rape chant" being used at the University of British Columbia indicate that this issue is not confined to Saint Mary's University, but as Iglika Ivanova points out in her article "What the UBC rape chant scandal says about women in the Canadian economy," reflect attitudes that still persist more widely in Canadian society.

Non-consensual, underage sex is not a joking matter and I warrant that most Canadian women find the topic of rape distinctly un-funny.  One might think that in 2013 such attitudes might have disappeared, at least amongst a better-educated constituency that attends institutions of higher learning. That student leaders would realize that such conduct -- even in the context of initiation ceremonies -- is simply beyond the pale. Seemingly, however, not.

I've also witnessed instances of shameful sexist behavior at Saint Mary's University indicating that this incident is not an isolated one. For example, at a Saint Mary's University women's volleyball game, male members of two SMU sports teams (that shall remain nameless) unleashed a barrage of sexist and degrading comments at the female members of the opposing team to the point where the game had to be halted, the SMU volleyball coach came over to ask the offenders to stop such conduct, and campus police finally had to escort some of the offenders out of the game. It was a shameful display, unworthy of anyone, let alone the members of a university community. The women who were part of both volleyball teams were visibly disturbed -- I could only imagine what they were thinking. It was clearly not in the spirit of friendly sporting rivalry between two sister institutions.

As a member of the wider Saint Mary's community (a longtime member of The Tower, having for years taught Tai Chi there, an occasional lecturer in the Biology Department, and a collaborator with various faculty members and students there), I also find that these events cast shame on the entire Saint Mary's University community, an institution that in many ways I admire as a stellar player in the academic and community life of Halifax and Nova Scotia. The university and the many superb academics and students who are there contribute immeasurably to the quality of life in the city and province

The "rape chant" events, nevertheless, offer an important "teachable moment" -- an opportunity to open a wider dialogue on the critical importance of respect -- for women, for sexual orientation, for different races, and ethnicities, indeed everyone -- that must be a sine qua non of the values that universities teach and uphold. If we can use the "rape chant" incidents as a catalyst to confront antediluvian attitudes that still persist in our society, we will both honour the legacy of universities as institutions that work to enlighten our societies, and transform such "base" events into a more golden legacy of tolerance and respect.

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