Another week, another success.
Seven months ago, that success was anything but certain.
After controversy and close scrutiny fell on the McMaster Redsuits for a sexist and degrading songbook connected to the organization, Welcome Week has come and gone with little issue for the Engineering reps. But that's just fine with Shane Zuchowski, one of the Redsuit planners alongside Jose Mercado, who already had their hands full with the ups and downs of the week.
Even after an improbable train of setbacks that includes mixed-up bookings, rain, fire alarms, and losing two buses for faculty night due to accident, Zuchowski has had a good attitude about it all.
"Someone should have just told me to wear spandex - the chafe is real," he said, laughing.
In terms of the first years, it's been one of the most successful Welcome Weeks the Redsuits have had.
"[For faculty night] we had a record turnout of 600 first year students,” he said. “The biggest problem was getting students to go back home. We had to get students back on the bus that were like, 'I don't want to go yet.’”
Of course, it hasn't been all rosy, and it certainly hasn't been easy. Shifting the culture of a group whose identity has been at times associated with drinking and promiscuity was going to receive some pushback. But despite a formal investigation and a rigorous selection process, the responsibility for changing the attitude was largely entrusted to the new Reds by the university.
"We never really had to have a conversation [with the university] about what we can and can't do because we both understood where that line was. Obviously, [things like] glorifying alcohol... and over-sexualizing everything the engineers have done in the past; that was something Redsuit culture was shifting [away from]," Zuchowski explained.
They've had to be creative, but small changes like changing a cheer from "smoke and drink and fool around" to "joke and think and fool around" have helped adjust their approach without neutering the brash and irreverent attitude the group is ultimately known for.
Zuchowski said, "For old Reds, at the very start, there was still the soreness from what happened because for people, Redsuits are a family. We've all been through Welcome Week together, we've all been sleep-deprived, but we've also all gone through the same program, we've all had the same struggles during exams... your friends are right there to support you."
The culture and conversation has changed outside of the controversial subjects, too. Traditions like the fake math test were changed to be called a "success portfolio" to alleviate the real stress some students had in advance of the test.
However, while the shift away from the old culture has been largely successful, other issues were bound to come to the forefront, one of which was a complaint that was submitted for a “fuck yeah” cheer.
“I will fully take responsibility for that issue,” Zuchowski said. “Since the start of Welcome Week, what we’ve focused on mainly were the things specifically outlined in the investigation, which were things like glorifying cheers about alcohol and oversexualization.”
“We realized our mistake… we got rid of it,” he said. “We wanted to apologize because we really didn’t mean anything of it.”
He continued, “understandably, everybody has a different level of sensitivity to things like that, especially curse words, but it slipped my mind [to discontinue it].”
When asked how he felt the Redsuits were able to adjust this year, Student Development Manager and member of the Welcome Week Advisory Committee Jeremy Sandor commented that he was “incredibly happy with how the week went.
“The two planners, Shane and Jose, were tireless through the summer in terms of working with staff from the Faculty of Engineering, the Student Success Centre, and the McMaster Students Union [in order] to make sure that the spirit and energy that the faculty is known for during Welcome Week was preserved,” Sandor said.
Although inclusiveness seems to have had a greater focus this year, Julia Clemens, the Welcome Week Faculty Coordinator, maintains that the philosophy has remained the same.
She said, "In some ways, we've refined behavior, and maybe there's a new perspective where a cheer that you think is harmless... and 95 per cent of students would have been ok with it - we're maybe a little more conscious of the five per cent that is made uncomfortable by it."
When looking at the lack of controversy during Welcome Week relative to the firestorm seven months ago, it’s clear that perspective took a new step this year.