Photo by Kyle West

By: Eden Wondmeneh

Consent education seems to always be an afterthought at McMaster University. The word “consent” is consistently thrown into events, seemingly out of place, with no elaboration, discussion or focus.

During Welcome Week, the word was plastered on posters that appeared at all the major events and was projected in vibrant colours on the big screen prior to the concert.

The way consent education was treated during Welcome Week foreshadowed how the subject would be addressed during the rest of the year: just enough to get a hypothetical participation award in disrupting trends of sexual violence but too little to make a legitimate impact on campus rape culture.

This culture is something that does not go unnoticed by those who are most likely to be targets of sexual violence. A late night food run is never complete without words of caution and offers of someone to walk with. It’s unfortunately not uncommon to walk with your keys in between your fingers.

Once when I was walking home, after parting ways with my group of friends, a male acquaintance yelled back, “Be careful! Campus rape culture is still a thing”.

To him I say, believe me, I know. There is rarely a moment, at a party or anywhere on campus during non-peak hours where my friends or I don’t feel discomfort, or even fear.

Following the news of sexual violence within the McMaster Students Union Maroons, this tension is especially high. Prospective Maroons are hesitant to submit returning applications and attending events run by or affiliated with the MSU is often met with a little more resistance.

The MSU’s response to the allegations and overall toxic campus culture has been dismal.

In the beginning of March, posters commissioned by the Ontario government were hung up in several residence buildings. It reads “If you are watching it happen, you are letting it happen. Consent is everything”.

This was the first attempt I noticed to address the importance of consent in my residence. Although this message is true and important, it being the only form of consent education on residence is frankly pathetic.

McMaster is not treating consent education as a major priority. Any educational materials, workshops or sessions produced or run by the MSU or its services are only accessible to those who actively seek out those learning opportunities. Even campaigns run by the Student Health Education Centre, while important, have limited reach.

Despite their value, consent education needs to reach beyond those populations to those who need it the most.

The issue of consent cannot be addressed on small poster in the basement of a residence building. Misconceptions or being ignorant to consent needing to be mutual, voluntary, informed and continuous directly results in continued sexual violence on campus.

In order to shift toxic campus rape culture, there needs to be open lines of discussion about consent that are inherent to the structure of Welcome Week, life on residence and campus life in general. These discussions need to be backed by action; posters and platitudes are not enough.

The nonchalant backburner approach to consent education fails to create an inclusive and safe community for all students.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Eden Wondmeneh

Faculty representatives and Maroons can shape incoming students’ initial impression of the McMaster University community. They guide us through Welcome Week and are meant to play the role of mentor and role model.

A few days into Welcome Week, new students grow accustomed to the vibrant suits and are well-aware of the colour distinctions of each faculty. Suddenly the suit, which at first glance may appear as a horrendous fashion statement, is at the top of many first-year students’ wish lists.

For some students who hope to mentor and inspire incoming students, becoming a faculty representative during Welcome Week is not feasible.

Even if they do make it through the competitive application process, they are unable to participate due to representative fees that candidates are not made aware of at any point during the application process.

On Jan. 22, a call was released on the DeGroote Commerce Society Facebook page for 2019 business faculty representatives. Applications were due by Feb. 1, with prospective green suits contacted for interviews.

The role requires faculty representatives to attend two training sessions prior to summer break and another session the week prior to Welcome Week. Green suits are also highly encouraged to participate in May at Mac and Shine-o-rama, both orientation events running during the summer break.

Despite the large time commitment and the cost of the $60 green suit itself, students who made it through the application process and ultimately became a green suit, were immensely excited about the experience to come.

This excitement, however, was soured with the introduction of a representative fee of over a hundred dollars that was not advertised at any point during the application process.

The representative fee is a confusing, hidden fee that prospective and new faculty representatives are appalled by. The fee is estimated to be around $120.00, but with the McMaster Students Union funding cuts, new representatives expect this to be a low-ball estimate and have yet to be informed of the final cost.

This cost is said to cover training, food and participation in Welcome Week. This contribution to Welcome Week especially annoys students who never signed up to subsidize part of Welcome Week that as first-year students we already paid a mandatory $120.98 First-Year Orientation levy for.

For business students fees to join clubs specific to their faculty  is not uncommon. Most clubs require students to pay a small fee for registration.

However, in the case of the representative fee that impacts all faculty reps, the fee is substantial, and no one made them aware of the fee prior to joining. With a lack of discussion of financial support, some students  are genuinely happy they didn’t make the cut.

It is simply unfair for students who underwent the incredibly extensive process to become a faculty representative to be cut from the position because of an inability to pay for the high fees.  

The faculty representative fee ensures that those who are willing and chosen to volunteer their time to enrich and support incoming students secure their spot by coughing up money.

If this is the inequitable model the green suits and other faculty society representatives decide to rely on, then they should at least be transparent to their applicants.

 

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When I was in first year, I hated Welcome Week.

I’m a naturally small and quiet person who gets easily lost in crowds, so the tradition of thousands of students swarming small fields and screaming at each other is a surefire way to erase me from any and all social activities going on at the same time.

I didn’t get along with the reps in my faculty, was generally neglected by the off-campus reps that were supposed to show me around, and after the week was finished, I could safely say that I made no new friends. My Welcome Week story is not an uncommon one, and I’ve finally pinpointed why: Welcome Week Rep Fatigue Syndrome.

WWRFS is a problem that has hounded our student body for years now, and it’s time we did something to stop it.

Contrary to my horrible Welcome Week experience, come the spring of first year, I still decided to apply, and consequently become, a faculty representative for the next two years of my undergrad. And it was during that fall of 2013 that I experienced WWRFS for the first time.

Representing the faculty of Humanities, I was a “Hummer” (a name my dear former faculty should look into changing for solely innuendo reasons) and I was ready to have a great Welcome Week this time around. But shortly into it, I grew tired. At the time, Welcome Week occurred during regular class schedules, my part-time job at The Sil had just started, and our faculty planners and reps were in the middle of a melodramatic and unnecessary power trip. I was sick and tired, but I put on a smile for first years and tried my best to have a great time.

A few of my housemates were also repping that year for residences and the Society of Off-Campus Students. They had it worse. Even though they enjoyed helping first years, waking up and going to sleep at ungodly hours all while trying to keep up with schoolwork and work-work, their bodies were only allowing them to do so much to get the people going.

Over the course of the week, there were reps around me coughing up a tasty mélange of bodily fluids from the amount of screaming and yelling, and those who weren’t hit with this plague were starting to snap at each other and first years from a lack of sleep and exhaustion.

By closing ceremonies, everyone seemed to have come down with a combination of strep throat and possibly SARS, and we were all excited to hibernate over the weekend before our next round of classes started.

I know way too many people who had comparably bad first-year Welcome Week experiences, and it’s because you can’t expect a group of exhausted over-worked students to put on a week-long spectacle without a few people suffering from the side effects — and more often than not, those people are first years.

With applications for Welcome Week representatives currently circulating across social media, the emphasis seems to be on “first years first,” but we can’t forget to also throw the needs of reps somewhere in there. Welcome Week representatives are not paid to work 12+ hour days, so the least they should get is a relatively healthy experience. Whether this means bringing on board more students to lighten the loads of each rep, or reassessing the number of events that take place during the week, our university and students union should strive to make this an event that all parties can enjoy. First years should be first. But if reps are neglecting their health, no one is going to feel like they’re coming in first.

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