Nova Scotia’s premier says he was disturbed after hearing a student chant at Saint Mary’s University that promoted non-consensual sex with underage girls, but he hopes the school takes a measured approach in its response to the incident.
“I think like everyone else, it’s disturbing,” Darrell Dexter said Thursday.
“You know, kids, they often act without considering, necessarily, the consequences of the things that they’re saying. It was very disturbing.”
The chant, posted on Instagram, condoned non-consensual sex with underage girls. It was led by student orientation leaders at the campus in Halifax.
University president Colin Dodds said he was shocked by the video and issued an apology on behalf of the school.
Dodds said a senior school administrator and the police met with student leaders prior to the event and raised the issue of sexual assault and sexual consent.
“However, I accept that I and the university administration have a role to oversee and guide student leaders. We failed in that responsibility,” he said in a statement.
The province recently launched an ad campaign aimed at young men to educate them about consensual sex.
The government has been focusing on raising awareness around consensual sex and bullying following the death of Rehtaeh Parsons earlier this year. The 17-year-old attempted suicide after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by several young men at a party in 2011.
Dexter said he thinks the students would have acted differently if they had thought about what they were doing.
“I also felt bad for them as well, because I think if they had sat for a second and thought about it, they wouldn’t have engaged in that kind of behaviour, particularly in this province, it’s is a very, very sensitive thing.”
Dodds said the school has called a special meeting with the executive and board of the student association asking them to explain what happened. Eighty student leaders involved in the school’s orientation week have been required to take a sensitivity seminar before the end of the month.
Dexter said speaking to the students involved is a good idea, but he wants the school to take a measured approach when dealing with them.
“I wouldn’t want to see something that harms the careers of the kids,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see that happen.”
Marilyn More, the province’s minister for the status of women, said she was dismayed after seeing the video, adding she would have expected people of that age to understand the inappropriate nature of the lyrics.
More said it will take time to change attitudes around sexual behaviour.
“These are certainly young people that we would have thought had given more appropriate thought to the whole issue of sexual violence,” she said.
“This has obviously prompted a lot of discussion. I think it’s going to lead to even more discussion and action by students around the province. And hopefully these students can turn what was very inappropriate and upsetting into a learning opportunity and move on with their lives.”