By Mohamed Omar
Ryerson’s administration has expressed its outrage at an event held by engineering students on Thursday and has scheduled a meeting with the organizers.
Between 20 and 30 engineering students were seen on campus leapfrogging and crawling in the snow as part of the Frosh Leader Covies Protest, an activity organized by the frosh orientation committee of the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS). The activity is for students hoping to earn their covies, blue coveralls designed for engineering students at Ryerson, as well as becoming frosh leaders for the following year.
Some participants were in their underwear or swimsuits. Students wearing the blue coveralls sprayed them with water guns and shouted instructions and chants through megaphones. The group stopped at Lake Devo to cheer before crawling across the wet pavement and running to Yonge and Dundas Square.
President Sheldon Levy said in a statement Saturday that there was “no excuse for the completely unacceptable activities that took place at the event, and anyone who contends it is ‘just fun’ or ‘builds community’ has no place at Ryerson.”
“My response to the students and the community is to express my strongest determination that this kind of behaviour never happens again,” Levy said. “The university is categorical in affirming it does not condone student conduct that demeans individuals in any way, and I am making clear our shock and anger in the face of this departure from dignity.”
Levy added that the school has “very strong policies in place that have been invoked immediately to deal with those involved.”
Those policies are mostly in Ryerson’s Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct, which prohibits hazing. Though Levy did not refer to the event as a hazing, the code defines it as “any act which endangers, or could reasonably be seen to endanger the mental or physical health or safety of a student, for the purpose of initiation, admission into, affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, a group or organization.”
But Rose Ghamari, an aerospace engineering student and president of RESS, said in an email that the event is not compulsory.
“Students are not required to participate in the covies protest to become frosh leaders. We have had many leaders over the years who have chosen to not participate in the covies protest and they have still been leaders and have received their covies,” she said.
“The intention of the event was to be a spirit demonstration and was never intended to be anything similar to hazing.”
Ghamari said it has been an annual event in March since 2006, but added that this year’s included activities that were “clearly unacceptable.”
“Any sort of physical contact as well as shouting commands is deemed unacceptable and is not endorsed by RESS. The intention was for the past leaders to only cheer on and yell encouraging comments to the new leaders, to participate in chants with the new leaders, and to sing our traditional engineering songs,” she said.
“However, we understand that things got out of hand and because of this we will be ensuring better practices and proper guidelines are put in place for future events so as to not cause any confusion between an enthusiastic demonstration of spirit and hazing.”
Jay Goldstein, the mechanical director at RESS, said students participate every year.
“These are potential frosh leaders. Every year we get them to do what we call the covie protest to earn their covies,” said Goldstein at Thursday’s event.
Greg Renouf, a writer who filmed the event and shared the video — containing footage of a male student slapping a female student’s behind— on his YouTube page, blog and Twitter, said he was told by a student at the event that it was an initiation. Many students disagreed in their responses to his blog post.
“A lot of the students wrote to me saying that this wasn’t about qualifying,” he said. “The other excuse the students at Ryerson were trying to give, the engineering students, was that this was a voluntary situation. But if you look at any school that’s had any sort of hazing incident, they make it very clear that voluntary or involuntary, it doesn’t matter because it’s technically not that involuntary.”
He added that a student he knows at Ryerson brought up the issue to the school.
The RESS executive and the orientation committee will meet with the administration on Monday afternoon, Ghamari said.
“I understand where President Levy is coming from and I am looking forward to meeting with Ryerson’s Administration on Monday to discuss the issue,” she said. “As a leader of RESS, I am committed to making changes to ensure incidents like this do not happen again.”
More to come.
Photos by Natalia Balcerzak