A campus community begins the process of building new orientation traditions
Jen Challinor is passionate about the Sauder School of Business. But the fourth-year marketing major is just as outspoken about last year’s infamous frosh chants.
The chants, which first came to light in a student newspaper in September 2013, encouraged violence against young women. Others conveyed offensive and demeaning Aboriginal stereotypes.
“The chant is inappropriate,” wrote Challinor in a blog post from Australia, where she was on a student exchange at the time. “I fail to understand why someone would actively create a chant like this.”
Challinor is keenly invested in building a positive sense of family among her classmates. She was a floor rep in her first year in residence, and a resident advisor in her second. Now she is part of a team of like-minded students who are helping the business school build a new orientation tradition from the ground up.
Sauder students, faculty members and staff have identified 50 discrete needs of incoming students from making friends, to having healthy relationships to navigating UBC campus. They are planning fun welcome activities to happen over two days – September 5 and 6 – that help meet those needs, and have named their new event the Spark.
“Building a sense of community for everyone is the most important thing,” says Challinor. “We are looking at all of our proposed activities and asking how different personalities might feel – whether you’re introverted or extroverted, competitive or non-competitive, domestic or international.”
Similar efforts are happening across the campus, the result of broad conversations sparked by the chants.
Last year student leaders apologized, resigned and took part in sexual violence workshops and a session to raise awareness of Aboriginal rights and culture. At the Sauder School of Business, the traditional organizing of frosh activities by the undergraduate society was cancelled, to be replaced by the new orientation program. Beyond orientation, Sauder is also developing a new student leadership program, and course materials are being reviewed to encourage more substantive discussion of social justice, ethics, Aboriginal business, corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues.
At the institutional level, UBC launched a task force to make recommendations to address broader cultural issues on the Vancouver campus, and that led to the creation of a campus-wide orientation steering committee.
“The process was motivated by the chants,” says Janet Teasdale, managing director, Student Development and Services, and co-chair of the committee. “But it became an opportunity to redefine why orientation matters. One clear goal is having an intentional welcome that introduces students to our community values and responsibilities.”
The committee endorsed new guidelines for orientation activities in every Vancouver faculty and face-to-face and online training sessions for all student leaders. This year, all leaders will also sign a commitment statement to respect others, embrace diversity and create a community that is welcoming to all.
Mathematics professor Mark MacLean, co-chair of the committee, believes the scope of conversations and work at UBC in response to the chants has been significant.
“It’s easy to respond, investigate and produce a report. It’s quite another thing to make a choice to take that opportunity to make inroads on the deeper issues,” says MacLean. “I haven’t seen such conversations be so wide-ranging, and engage so many.”
MacLean points to the approach modelled by the campus First Nations community. Leaders brought Indigenous students and those studying in the program together with students who had participated in chants degrading to Aboriginal people. Some students were challenged for the first time to think how poorly conceived words and actions, however unintentional, can cause harm to others. And some professed it was a transformational life experience.
Teasdale agrees that the university is trying to leverage what it does best: transformative education.
“It doesn’t mean there won’t be any more problems,” says Teasdale. “But our approach is to focus on education. Through the process of learning about other people, and their histories, and the impact that words have on others, we hope to build a better community, and society.”
For Challinor, the year has been a catalyst for long-term change.
“Orientation sets the stage, but there is more to be done. The incidents were really important in bringing these issues to our attention, starting discussions and helping us move forward. The university is stronger for it.”
At the institutional level, UBC has:
- Created a campus-wide committee with members from each Vancouver faculty to oversee and set standards for orientations going forward
- Developed new orientation guidelines that include clear expectations on issues of equity and inclusion for all UBC and student orientations
- Provided student leaders with training that addresses issues of equity and inclusion, in partnership with student organizations. This has been happening during the summer, and will also include pre-arrival online learning modules students leaders must complete to build understanding of UBC’s policies and values
- Required all student leaders to sign a statement of commitment to respect others and help create a community that is welcoming for all
The Sauder School of Business:
- Has ended undergraduate society frosh activities in favour of a new school-led orientation program that is being developed by the administration, students, faculty, staff and alumni
- Prepared a new two-day program that will build on the larger orientation activities at UBC and integrate learning and social activities that focus on community building and the promotion of values of respect, rigour and responsibility
- Is creating a new student leadership training program to foster ethical and respectful leadership qualities
- Is updating curriculum to enhance themes of social justice, ethics, and corporate social responsibility