Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Last updated: 2 days ago
September 18, 2013, 3:22pm PDT

Sauder rape cheer: UBC vows to fight systemic issues following investigation

CUS pledges $250k toward new support position; leaders to undergo sensitivity training, do community service; UBC 'treating issue as if it goes beyond Sauder'

By Arno Rosenfeld
From left: Sauder School of Business Dean Robert Hesley, UBC VP Students Louise Cowin, UBC President Stephen Toope and UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill at a press conference Wednesday morning.

From left: Sauder School of Business Dean Robert Hesley, UBC VP Students Louise Cowin, UBC President Stephen Toope and UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill at a press conference Wednesday morning.

“I am embarrassed.”

Robert Helsley, dean of the Sauder School of Business at UBC, wore a dejected look as he addressed members of the media at a press conference Wednesday morning. “This has been deeply, deeply troubling for me as the dean of the school.”

► Fact-finding report results:
- “The Y-O-U-N-G chant was used by the majority of FROSH leaders. This and other chants containing sexist and derogatory language … were chanted on the bus trips only.”

- “The majority of leaders interviewed stated that there was no cheer training [and] that the chants were passed on orally from year to year.”

- “The bus cheers, including the Y-O-U-N-G chant, are not new to this year’s FROSH and alumni report that they have been a part of FROSH in the past.”

- “Some leaders described the purpose of the bus cheers [as] to take people out of their comfort zone and bring them together.”

The results of UBC’s fact-finding team regarding the Sauder rape cheer were announced at a morning press conference at the Chan Centre on Wednesday, Sept. 18. UBC’s report confirmed that the cheer had a long history at Sauder FROSH and had been deliberately concealed by student leaders.

Due to the systemic and long-running nature of the offensive cheer, UBC President Stephen Toope said no formal disciplinary action will be taken against Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS) leaders. However, it was announced that the group has pledged $250,000 toward funding a new professional position at the university aimed at combating sexual violence and misogyny on campus.

“I am extremely sorry that our first-year students at the Sauder school were subjected to completely inappropriate FROSH activity,” Toope said of the Y-O-U-N-G cheer. “I am not sorry, however, that this has come to light. I think we are given an opportunity to seize this moment to strike at the casual indifference to sexual violence and intolerance.”

Toope was joined by Helsley and Louise Cowin, UBC’s VP students, who oversaw the fact-finding mission. It was announced that Cowin has been charged with creating a task force that will report at the start of the next academic year on best practices to improve campus culture regarding sexual violence.

"I am not sorry that this has come to light. I think we are given an opportunity to seize this moment to strike at the casual indifference to sexual violence and intolerance."
— Stephen Toope, UBC president

Helsley said three distinct steps would be taken as a result of the report: holding student leaders personally accountable for allowing the cheer, working to restore “community trust” and changing Sauder culture to foster a safe environment for all students.

In practice, this means CUS leaders will participate in Sexual Assault Support Centre training and do community service relevant to the incident. The community service — the details of which still have to be finalized by UBC, Sauder and the CUS — will fall outside the realm of non-academic misconduct discipline.

Graffiti defaces the front of the Henry Angus Building, home to the Sauder School of Business, on the morning of Sept. 9. Photo courtesy Sauderite/Reddit

Graffiti defaces the front of the Henry Angus Building, home to the Sauder School of Business, on the morning of Sept. 9. Photo courtesy Sauderite/Reddit

Future of FROSH remains unclear

Helsley said Sauder administration will work closely with the CUS to create future orientation events.

“We are going to redesign welcome week activities so that they meet our standards going forward,” Helsley said.

Helsley had previously said Sauder was pulling their logistical support for CUS FROSH and the CUS announced last week that they were canceling future FROSH events.

In the student society’s first public comments in nearly a week, CUS board member Sean Fleming told The Ubyssey that administration support was essential for CUS-organized orientation events.

“If we didn’t have their approval and their support, it would be a much different event,” Fleming said. “We do look forward to working with them going forward to figure out whatever event it’s going to be like in the future.”

CUS $250K contribution mostly unfunded

While the $250,000 contribution toward hiring a psychologist to work on sexual violence-related issues was touted by Helsley and Toope at the press conference, it is unclear whether the CUS will be able to follow through on that commitment.

CUS leadership has already committed $50,000 toward the contribution, but that is the maximum amount that the society’s board can allocate annually for any single unbudgeted project. Sauder students will vote on whether to follow through on the rest of the contribution in an October referendum, Fleming said.

"Given the obvious issues with the Sauder culture, [we felt] it would be appropriate to financially support some changes to bring this assistance to students within Sauder."
— Sean Fleming, CUS board member

“[Students] will be able to decide whether they think this is a good use of their student fees,” Fleming said.

He said the board had not discussed what would happen if the referendum — which would require a simple majority of at least 15 per cent of Commerce students — but that there would be several options if students did not approve it. The board can allocate $100,000 to any given project during the budgeting process at the start of each year, an option Helsley suggested at the press conference.

But despite the uncertainty, Fleming was adamant that the contribution was a good use of the student fees the CUS collects from its members.

“We felt that given what’s happened and given the obvious issues with the Sauder culture, it would be appropriate to financially support some changes to bring this assistance to students within Sauder,” Fleming said. “That fulfills our mandate to help Sauder students.”

Problems go beyond FROSH

During the press conference, Toope made it clear that the university viewed the offensive cheer as a systemic problem and was approaching it as such.

"We’re treating this as if it not a problem limited to Sauder and as if we must address these concerns from the perspective of the whole university."
— Stephen Toope, UBC president

“We all believe the university has an obligation to address the more pernicious systematic aspects of the casual acceptance of violence and sexualization seems to pop up in society,” Toope said. “We’re treating this as if it is not a problem limited to Sauder and as if we must address these concerns from the perspective of the whole university.”

Responding to a question about whether the acceptance of a cheer like the Y-O-U-N-G cheer was especially problematic for a business school, Helsley said he had heard complaints from local business leaders regarding the incident.

“This highlights for me the great importance we should, and do, place on issues related to ethics and respect in the business school.”

Blunt report lays findings plain

The fact-finding mission was conducted over four days last week, with investigators from Cowin and Hesley’s offices interviewing 62 students and four staff members. The students included CUS board and executive members as well as FROSH organizers and participants.

► Student testimony from report:
- “It’s a brotherhood type of thing, an inside thing. It’s inclusive in that others would not know about it.”

- “I was hesitant to participate in [the Y-O-U-N-G chant] but when a leader does it, it seems like a rite of passage.”

- “THE CUS FROSH organizers have a false impression that the cheers are ‘fun.’”

- “It’s tough to reflect. It makes me wonder, this idea of ‘people can come forward if uncomfortable’…. There is no chance they would.”

The report laid out in blunt bullet points the investigators’ findings: the cheer had a long history at CUS FROSH, it was intended to break students out of their comfort zones, CUS leaders were aware of it and while not encouraging volunteers to lead first-years in it, did not take action to stop it.

“I think these things happen in strange ways,” Toope said of how the cheer came to be embedded in FROSH culture. “Attempts are made to develop a sense of camaraderie, however misplaced.”

The report mentioned that the Y-O-U-N-G cheer was considered to be a “bus cheer,” one of several inappropriate cheers meant to be conducted in private and kept secret by froshees. The repot quoted unnamed students explaining the rationale behind the cheers.

“The bus cheers were taboo, a naughty thing that you got to do,” one student said of the secret FROSH cheers. “Bus cheers are a thing for us only, a thing that only Sauder students know, a tradition. This helps build community,” another told the investigators.

"Bus cheers are a thing for us only, a thing that only Sauder students know, a tradition. This helps build community."
— Unnamed student quoted in the fact-finding report

The report also mentioned other issues in passing, including sexualized activities at FROSH.

“I think what we’re talking about, from hints that we have, sort of semi-nudity, people being asked to strip, that kind of activity,” Toope said. “Which again is unacceptable and not appropriate. But, it wouldn’t be the first time that would have happened at a university.”

UBC spokeswoman Lucie McNeill clarified that the president was extrapolating on the single mention of “overly sexualized” activities made in the report and that the report did not uncover actual evidence of students being asked to strip. McNeill added that the university’s primary concern was on the casual acceptance of sexualized violence at FROSH.

“We’re not going to go on a witch hunt for skimpy clothing on campus,” she said.

Commerce students on Imagine Day. Photo courtesy Sauder School of Business Facebook page

Commerce students on Imagine Day. Photo courtesy Sauder School of Business Facebook page

‘Not enough’ done following 2008 revelation

In 2008, a different bus cheer was left up on a whiteboard on campus and the Sauder administration was made aware of it at that time.

Helsley said that incident led to “intensive” consultations between Sauder and the CUS and led to a contract the CUS drew up for its leaders to sign and provide to Sauder each year committing to running an appropriate FROSH.

“I’ll only add that obviously it wasn’t enough, and that’s why we’re taking the measures that we’re taking today,” Toope said following Helsley’s remarks on the incident.

Toope also addressed reports that surfaced in an article yesterday that a racist cheer was also sung at CUS FROSH.

“We learned through the media yesterday that some CUS FROSH participants were heard chanting about aboriginal issues in a manner that was derogatory and dismissive of First Nations people,” Toope said. “This is of course completely unacceptable and we’re going to be looking into those reports.”

The racist cheer — “white man, steal our land” — was allegedly sung by a single FROSH group. Fitting with this year’s Disney theme for FROSH, the group allegedly singing the cheer was called “Pocahontas.”

Unlike the rape cheer, there is no indication that the racist cheer had occurred in other years or outside of the Pocahontas group, or that it was intentionally kept from public view. Nor did it appear that the cheer was implicitly condoned by CUS leadership, as other bus cheers apparently were.

Former CUS President Enzo Woo, holding the “Sauder” sign, pictured at the Imagine Day pep rally with Sauder dean Robert Helsley, was pressued to resign by the dean following the rape cheer scandal. Photo Carter Brundage/The Ubyssey

CUS leaders were pressured to resign: Helsley, Toope

It was revealed at the press conference that the resignations of both CUS President Enzo Woo and CUS VP engagement Gillian Ong, announced last week, were prompted by pressure from Helsley.

“I did articulate to them what I thought they could do to begin the process of restoring their credibility in the community,” Helsley said of his suggestion that Woo and Ong resign. “The events came to light this year, so in some sense just by default they are going to bear more responsibility.”

“It may very well be that people feel that they are frustrated by having to [resign], but I think that’s very much a part of what we feel was necessary in addressing the very, very serious allegations,” Toope said.

Fleming said the election to replace Woo would be held later in September as part of the previously scheduled CUS first-year representative elections.

“It’s a bit rushed, to be honest, but we felt it was better to get rid of a little uncertainty,” Fleming said.

The CUS VP engagement position, which became vacant following Gillian Ong’s resignation, will be hired through the normal hiring process for CUS executive members, Fleming said.

Toward the end of the press conference, Helsley reiterated how bothered he was by the revelation that the rape cheer was taking place at FROSH.

"In their hearts, I don’t believe this is what most of our students think or believe."
— Stephen Toope, UBC president

In a moment of emotional candor, Toope said he had been heartened by the response of students on campus following the exposure of the cheer, adding that the cheer did not represent students’ true character.

“In their hearts, I don’t believe this is what most of our students think or believe,” the president said.