Recent controversies over sexually explicit chants at other Canadian universities have led engineering students at Concordia University to rewrite their frosh songbook.
School spirit doesn’t have to come at the expense of other students, said Katherine Bellini and Antonin Picou, the presidents of the Concordia chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and Engineering and Computer Science Association, respectively.
They were in CBC Montreal’s Daybreak studio Wednesday morning to talk about a recently passed motion that mandates the rewriting of offensive songs.
“Initially, I heard these songs and it was so inappropriate it made me feel unsafe, so I addressed this issue to promote a positive culture change within the school,” Bellini said.
She said that while the songs may not exist on paper anywhere that she's aware of, they are distributed online by students.
Chant lyrics promoting sexual impropriety and even sexual violence are nothing new at post-secondary institutions in Canada.
St. Mary’s University in Nova Scotia landed in hot water last September when a video posted online to Instagram featured a frosh chant promoting underage sex.
A pro-rape song was reportedly sung by some University of British Columbia students last September, as well.
And just last month, McMaster University in Ontario suspended an engineering student group over a songbook the university said contained "sexist, violent and degrading material."
Picou said that it’s not a rampant issue at Concordia University at the moment, but admitted that it could become an issue at some point — and so the ECA is leading the pack on proactively changing their tune.
Culture of respect
Concordia student newspaper The Link reported this week that the provincial Quebec Confederation for Engineering Student Outreach also unanimously passed a similar motion.
Bellini and Picou said banning individual songs wasn’t an implementable solution, so the students focused on addressing the larger issues at hand.
Picou said the motion passed by the university students looks to improve student leader training and create a policy on good conduct and complaint resolution. It also makes for the creation of the Student Spirit Committee, which will be in charge of reviewing promotional material and ultimately, for rewriting the songs.
“What we’re really trying to do is promote a culture of respect. I think that it’s reasonable to assume that when you come into university, that’s the culture that’s there. We’re not trying to promote anybody feeling left out or not safe at our events,” Picou said.