A Ryerson University engineering tradition has drawn sharp criticism after a video of half-naked students crawling through slush surfaced on YouTube.
Ryerson engineering students say school president Sheldon Levy is overreacting by likening an annual Ryerson Engineering Student Society event to a form of hazing.
Levy has condemned the event as ?completely unacceptable? and not representative of the ?principles of civil society, and the positive and supportive culture of Ryerson.?
The RESS says the ?voluntary? event builds school spirit, helps engineering students bond, and even calling it an ?initiation? is wrong.
Every spring, engineering students who wish to become frosh week leaders in the coming fall can take part to earn their ?covies,? a pair of engineering coveralls worn during orientation week.
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Half-naked leader hopefuls frolic around campus and ?swim? through Lake Devo, a shallow man-made pond at the centre of campus, as past leaders egg them on. They leap-frog each other, join a conga line to Yonge and Dundas Square and collect signatures of support to be a leader.
Last week, former leaders carrying squirt guns led hopefuls, many dressed only in underwear, through a slush-filled Lake Devo and ordered them to crawl. In the YouTube video, snowballs can be seen hitting the hopefuls, and one former leader slaps the behind of a female student on all-fours.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, who was disgusted by the YouTube video, said the shame of not participating makes the event a form of hazing.
?They?re in this situation that makes it socially mandatory,? said Carroll, a former Toronto District School Board trustee. ?You do it or you?re ostracized.?
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam called the antics captured on camera ?demeaning? to those involved.
?What the video revealed is already disturbing and I worry that perhaps other inappropriate acts between the students took place and there was no video camera,? she said.
Levy said he will be meeting with RESS representatives Monday to discuss the event and any further action that may be taken.
?The university is categorical in affirming it does not condone student conduct that demeans individuals,? Levy said in a statement. ?I am making clear our shock and anger in the face of this departure from dignity.?
Rose Ghamari, RESS president, said the event has been going on for at least seven years with no problems. Whether hopeful leaders participate or not, they still get their ?covies? and a chance to be frosh week leaders, she said.
?It?s an event to get them out of their comfort zone and show their engineering spirit,? said Ghamari. ?It was not intended to be hazing, that was not our intention.?
Ghamari said about 100 engineering students applied to be frosh leaders next school year, but only 50 or so took part in the ?spirit event? last week.
?We don?t refer to it as initiation,? she said. ?It?s more of a spirit event ? it?s not mandatory participation by any means and it?s just encouraged.?
She said the half-naked aspect is a tradition carried on by students. ?(We?re) not telling people to take off clothes,? she said. ?It?s just how people show up, it?s completely up to them.?
Ghamari said it?s unclear what consequences the student leader who slapped the behind of a junior student may face.
?We will be speaking with him and haven?t decided what action is required but it will be clearer once we meet with administration on Monday.?
Suzy Vader, 22, a fourth-year biomedical engineering student, participated in the event three years ago and chose to do so in her underwear.
?There was never any pressure to participate,? she said, adding no one made her take her clothes off. ?The engineers are an extremely friendly community and have never overstepped the line for my comfort.?
Gabriel Wright, 19, a first-year chemical engineering student, was at the event last week and is upset how it?s being portrayed.
?It was not a hazing,? he said. ?It?s completely optional and everyone there was smiling and having a good time. It was just a celebration.?
Wright, who applied to be a frosh week leader, watched the event but did not participate; he didn?t want to risk getting really sick by being half-naked in the -4C weather.
?It?s just something to look back on and say you did something crazy,? said Wright, who still got his coveralls. ?We do it because it?s fun ?literally, there?s no shame.?
But president Levy said ?there is no excuse for the completely unacceptable activities? at the event.
?Anyone who contends it is ?just fun? or ?builds community? has no place at Ryerson,? he said.