COMMENTARY | SEPTEMBER 6TH, 2012
Ro-dee-NOHow Engineering Frosh coordinators fell off their horsesWritten by Natalie Church | Photo by Amina Batyreva | The McGill Daily
On August 28, veteran McGill students led their proverbial lambs to slaughter. This year, McGill attempted to “redefine” Frosh by making the world’s largest fruit salad and inviting the surrounding community to participate. They wouldn’t have been compelled to host such a fruity affair if there weren’t something terribly disturbing and disrespectful about Frosh’s reputation in Montreal.
The rodeo-themed Engineering Frosh glorifies the men and women of the forgotten West: those brave individuals called cowboys and cowgirls, who, seeking freedom and landed property in the wild frontier inhabited by Native Americans, committed innumerable atrocities. Likewise, the founders of McGill forcibly appropriated Native lands – not to mention James McGill’s purchase of slaves. Engineering Frosh organizers chose a theme which drags up awful memories for those in our community who have connections to the Native population; in the process, they used props like toy guns that serve to glorify weapons and violence. They should be held accountable, even if they need to be lassoed into writing an apology.
Too bad organizers, leaders, and newcomers to McGill, like those frontiersmen of the past, will be too busy colonizing the streets of Montreal shouting profanities and anti-Concordia cheers to write an apology. James McGill, the cowboy of Canada, would be proud.
He might also have been excited by the promotion video for “Rodeo Week,” which switches between shots of the orange Robert E. Lee car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – slightly perplexing considering that the only thing they have in common with the cowpoke is a hat, and not even a ten-gallon one.
The cowboy theme, then, is not only about the hats, but about sexual objectification. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office, “sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.” When prevalent, as these incidents are in Frosh, rape culture develops. The main instigators of rape culture during Frosh are the leaders and coordinators. Not all Frosh leaders promote these negative attitudes, however, a lack of sensitivity towards these issues can be just as damaging.
On the website, each coordinator has a biography section in which they post their favourite activities, their most treasured memories, and their “poison.” The most problematic question is, “How do you like your cowboys?” or “How do you like your cowgirls?” This question is almost as troublesome as some of the answers. Such a question, superficially non-offensive, enforces gender binaries by asserting that there exist only two types of people, which delegitimizes and ignores the many in our community who do not identify themselves as strictly male or female. Moreover, requiring a coordinator to answer questions concerning their orientation and publishing their answers on a public forum may grant too much importance to socially constructed ideas of sexuality.
Some answered this question with “bareback” or “bucking” – apparently mistaking their horses for their sexual partners; maybe to these cowboys they are one and the same. Another replied, “Lets just say I don’t touch anything lower than an 8.5/10.” Unfortunately, they are unaware that life is not an event at the rodeo, and scoring ‘contestants’ will not win them any prizes. Shockingly, one coordinator was able to take the question seriously and responded, “medium-rare.”
Although Engineering Frosh seems to be the leader in the race to a new moral depravity, a culture of violence, sexual subjugation, and objectification flourishes in the other Froshes as well. In fact, last year a number of individuals at the Arts Undergraduate Society General Assembly proposed changes to the Frosh mandate in order to make it a safer and more accessible space. These proposals included adding anti-oppression and rape culture workshops, which would have addressed many of the problematic aspects of these events. Given the concern surrounding Frosh, it is perplexing to see Engineering Frosh coordinators choose a theme centered around groups who have participated in acts of oppression and genocide. This only furthers the already apparent alienating and hierarchical paradigm in which McGill exists.
Natalie Church is a Philosophy, Political Theory, and Math student. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.