Don’t shelve harassment training (Editor’s Notes)

Disturbing chants by students at Saint Mary’s University, UBC
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

HR professionals, meet the students who will soon be populating your workforce: “Y-O-U-N-G, at UBC we like ’em young. Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.”

That’s in contention for the most disturbing and disgusting lead to a column I’ve ever written. And yet, it’s what some students — both male and female — at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver were chanting during organized freshmen orientation events at the Sauder School of Business last month.

Now that the school year is well underway, it’s a good time to step back and reflect on what we’ve seen on campuses across the country. It’s not a pretty picture, and it will make you rethink making any cuts to your workplace harassment training budget.

What makes the UBC chant even more unbelievable is that it came hot on the heels of a similar chant by students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. That story had already made national headlines by the time the students struck a wrong chord in Vancouver.

I was dumbfounded when I first heard the Saint Mary’s chant. It’s been awhile since I was on a campus but I never heard anyone advocate rape — let alone underage rape — in my days at university. I was absolutely floored when I heard it had been repeated at UBC.

But others I talked to, younger workers and family members who are fresh off campus, weren’t so shocked or surprised. “It’s just how it is,” was the general consensus.

Not everyone is taking it in stride, though. Daren Miller, a 42-year-old Calgary alumni of Saint Mary’s, was so disgusted by the chant that he flew to Halifax to return his bachelor’s degrees in arts and commerce.

“To me, those degrees are valueless,” he told the Canadian Press. “I wanted to distance myself (from) the embarrassment and shame I felt from this sort of culture. I’m not that kind of guy.”

A fact-finding report from UBC found that some of the FROSH leaders were simply following “established” tradition and that the chants were designed to take people out of their comfort zones and bring them together.

“The bus cheers were taboo, a naughty thing that you got to do… a way to loosen up,” said one of them. “It made you feel less apprehensive… it was our own thing… it allowed people to come out of their shell.”

Other leaders said the chants were intentionally vulgar and were not meant to be taken seriously — “like a really bad offensive joke” and “being as loud, obnoxious and raunchy as possible.”

There are thousands of better ways to do team-building — and that’s essentially what this was — than to be offensive and raunchy.

If there’s a plus, it’s that few of the FROSH leaders at UBC are defending the indefensible. The report stated that words such as “embarrassed,” “ashamed,” “mortified” and “disappointed” were used to describe how they felt when the chant went public.

One leader remarked that, in general, they had done a good job during FROSH in training students on equity, diversity and physical safety — but “we focused on the safety of scraped knees instead of the safety of other aspects from our words.”

That’s a familiar problem off campus, at many organizations across the country.

Perhaps it was naive but I thought the stereotype of the old boss chasing his young secretary around the desk had pretty much gone the way of the dodo.

But if this is what students on university and college campuses across Canada are being exposed to — and these are the people who will be joining the workforce and becoming leaders in the next few years — there’s still plenty of work to do to make that happen.

Reader Comments

“(The issue of vacation balances when an employee resigns) also raises concerns around ongoing benefits coverage, such as short-term disability. If an employee is injured while on vacation, presumably the benefits plan would still be in place and the employer/insurer could be on the hook for extended benefits coverage which could — perhaps should — have been terminated… this is why we discuss departure dates with employees and don’t allow them to take vacation as their final days.”

— Nancy Harper,
commenting on Jeffrey R. Smith’s blog “Cutting out early.”

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