How can we create awareness, sensitivity, and prevention of rape culture through public education?
In Canada, national news reported an offensive rape chant being sung by frosh students a mari usque ad mare. University of British Columbia (UBC) business students in Vancouver and Saint-Mary’s University students in Halifax were filmed chanting this: “Y-O-U-N-G at UBC we like em young Y is for yourrr sister O is for ohh so tight U is for under age N is for noo consent G is for goo to jail.” Here is further coverage of the events:
I am hesitant to include coverage by UBC’ Ubyssey because the articles I have read to date, seemingly written by fellow students, do not emphasise how unacceptable and offensive the behaviour is. If anything, the Ubyssey articles I have read reflect the indifference (or internalised sexism) of the students involved (the following statements were made by women):
“I think it’s all passed down year after year … from forever, I guess” Chen said. “It’s not something we can control, to be honest.”
“It was just for fun, right? It was only on the bus so I didn’t think of it as a big deal, to be honest,” she said. “It was just kind of like, ‘Let’s have a good time, let’s go all out, it’s frosh weekend.”
The Global clips included opinions by more concerned students. It seems than in the case of this story the mainstream media has been more progressive that student-led reporting.
Beyond the cliché, platitude, and almost insulting understatement that such chants are “not appropriate,” university and school educators must wonder how so many students signed up for higher education are able to engage in such grotesque behaviour: turning the horrors of rape, under age sex, and tight vaginas into a pep rallying cheer to encourage camaraderie amongst new students.
Most jurisdictions require that public schools assess critical thinking (i.e. thinking – the use of creative and critical thinking skills – is one of four competencies tested in Ontario’s standardised assessment grid, from the primary to secondary level). Many jurisdictions also have anti-sexist education programmes and sexual assault prevention and awareness programmes. If teaching and assessing critical thinking are mandated by policy, then are education systems effectively producing critical thinkers? And are anti-sexist and rape prevention programmes effective?
While assessment of critical thinking is mandatory, teachers, schools, and textbooks have a lot of freedom in selecting subjects to discuss and analyse. How often are public school students considering and critiquing representations of gender (“oh so tight”), gender relations (“your sister,” “underage”), dating, courtship, consent, and rape (“no consent,” “go to jail”)?
My own efforts in anti-sexist education have left me concerned that only a minority of students seem to become interested in gender issues. I am concerned with the perpetuation of sexism and the fact that many students do not actually understand the meaning of rape (i.e. some students – girls in the cases I am thinking of – did not recognise abusive relationships or date rape in novels or understand the concept of consent following a sexual assault prevention workshop).
My question for fellow educators – my peers – is the following: In your respective experiences, what is public school education doing about educating students about rape and sexual assault legislation, and more abstractly, of rape culture? What is working? What is not working?