Updated: This isn’t the first time Saint Mary’s has heard complaints about their frosh chant...
SMUSA president Jared Perry apologizes for the sexual chant during a press conference at Saint Mary's University, Sept. 5. Behind him stand the orientation leaders from this year's frosh events. (Metro Halifax)
This isn’t the first time Saint Mary’s Student Association (SMUSA) has heard complaints about their frosh activities.
Third-year SMU student and former frosh leader Alexandria Bennett says she voiced concerns to SMUSA last year.
The now infamous event was captured in an Instagram video, uploaded this week, which shows orientation leaders participating in a chant condoning sexual assault and sex with underage women.
Bennett says she heard the same chant at last year’s “Turfburn” event.
"I remember standing in the back, with my group, just hearing people say, 'Oh my god, what the hell is this?'"
After one of her new students, herself a rape survivor, voiced her outrage, Bennett decided to speak with SMUSA General Manager Cathie Ross about her concerns with frosh activities.
Bennett says the general manager told her the events were “just for fun,” and her concerns were brushed aside.
The student who came to Bennett with concerns eventually transferred to Mount Saint Vincent University.
"She was a rape victim herself and it upset her so much she transferred," Bennett says. "I haven't spoken to her in the last year, so I don't even know if she's still in school."
Spokesperson for Saint Mary’s Steve Proctor told Metro Halifax that senior administrators at SMU were shocked after seeing the “sexist and offensive” chant.
“We were surprised,” he said in an interview.
“The senior director of student services had met with the (student) executive and the organizing committee… and spoke about these very issues and the need to be respectful.”
He says the student union has apologized for the incident and promised the chant will no longer be part of frosh week activities.
Student leaders involved in the orientation week, along with members of the student union executive, will undergo sensitivity training because of the incident.
At a press conference held at Saint Mary’s today, Sept. 5, SMUSA president Jared Perry told reporters “I have personally never received any complaints until yesterday” about the chant.
Perry apologized on behalf of SMUSA, adding he felt “terrible” about having taken part himself and that no one in the organization realized the implications of the wording.
Bennett says that response is “absolute garbage.”
“I know this cheer’s been going on at least since 2010, possible before,” she says. “I can’t be the only student who’s ever stood up against it.”
The psychology major says the chant was just one of many offensive behaviours she saw frosh leaders engaging in last year.
“I was witnessing other leaders buying underage girls, frosh students, buying alcohol for them.”
She says those events happened at a secret party held after last year’s Shinerama charity fundraiser.
"The night after was when I quit. I couldn't do it anymore."
Bennett says it wasn't uncommon for frosh leaders, male and female, to brag about the youngest students they had coerced into having sex.
Calls to SMUSA were not returned, nor were messages left for Carrigan Desjardin. As vice president of student life, Desjardin is, according to Bennett, in charge of approving all frosh activities and leaders. Ross couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
Though she still attends SMU and volunteers with the university’s Women’s Centre, Bennett says she discourages other potential students from studying at Saint Mary’s.
"I try not to recommend SMU," she says. "Unless you're super dedicated, you just get caught up in this entrapment of sexuality and alcohol."
She says she's very glad the chant has caused such public outrage.
"The way that they're handling this is not the way it should be handled," she adds. "This is something that does happen and can't be joked around about."
In a later e-mail to HalifaxNewsNet on Friday, Cathie Ross said that she had had no prior knowledge of the chant’s content. “If such a complaint had been made it would have been acted on immediately.”
– With files from Metro Halifax