Over the past several weeks, revelations of chants involving rape and sex with minors at St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia, and the University of British Columbia, have shone another critical light on university ‘frosh’ events—often understood as an opportunity for students to indulge in a multi-day bacchanal before classes begin.
Here at McGill, frosh has been a controversial topic; criticisms of a lack of inclusivity and promotion of rape culture have persisted over the years. While there have been gradual changes to the event over the years—increased restrictions on the availability of alcohol, and more attempts to include underage students at various events—the question remains: what do we as a community need to do to fix frosh?
In the view of this editorial board, there are some good reasons for a frosh to exist on campus. Ideally, such a week would give direction to incoming students, dropped as they are into a completely unfamiliar city with few to no friends. It also would provide a safe—in all senses of the word—space for new students to blow off steam in the weeks before classes actually begin.
However, even in its purportedly improved form, frosh as we know it today falls far short of this ideal. The continued emphasis on heavy drinking substantially reduces the number of meaningful friendships that come out of the festivities, and the week often presents an experience not just unreflective of the rest of life at McGill, but in many ways wholly divorced from the reality of it. Many students have described frosh as a sort of multi-day blur, with participants often feeling like cattle in a herd—de-individualized and acting out of a desire to fit in.
Often, one of the main contributors to this problem is the behaviour of frosh leaders. Too often the position of frosh leadership attracts a certain kind of student—someone who had a good time during their own frosh in their first year, who wants to relive that experience with their friends. The problem with this is that frosh leaders with these motivations are often unconcerned—or, at least, not sufficiently concerned—with the needs of the young adults they are supposed to be leading. Some leaders will not take the time to ensure that all the students in their group are adjusting well and interacting with others; they don’t provide a proper framework for the participants to drink responsibly, and make no or minimal effort to accommodate underage students, or students who would prefer not to drink. As in the cases of the offensive chants brought to light at the two universities, responsibility for the offensive behaviour exhibited during frosh weeks is as much—if not more—the fault of frosh leaders as of participants.
“Options for students leery of the excesses of the standard frosh experience are often well under the radar.”
Furthermore, options for students who seek a welcoming orientation but are leery of the excesses of the standard frosh experience are often well under the radar of even current students—let alone newly arrived first-years who are just settling into residence or an apartment. Froshes not coordinated by the SSMU or faculty associations are generally under-publicized—leaving first-years with the impression that it is either standard frosh, or nothing.
There are some paths to improvement; the development and ongoing culture of frosh, year after year, is a self-replicating process—those who enjoyed the event when they participated are the ones who themselves made the conscious choice to join the bodies that help shape it in future years, making reform a longer process than it otherwise should be. Those who didn’t enjoy frosh can provide a more critical perspective, and suggest the sorts of improvements that would make the event more inclusive.
In addition, this editorial board feels that SSMU, along with other student groups, need to do a better job of not simply publicizing, but normalizing what we currently consider to be the “alternative” frosh options, so that all incoming students, regardless of their personal beliefs or disposition, will find a diverse environment that is not only inclusive, but more generally conducive to a positive university experience for everybody.