Saint Mary’s University is calling on an expert in bullying to lead a new task force on preventing sexual violence, following a national controversy over a rape-themed cheer at a frosh week event.
Wayne MacKay, the former chair of a provincial task force on bullying, was appointed by the school after a video surfaced of a chant during frosh week activities at the Halifax university.
“As I watched events unfold at Saint Mary’s University over the last week, I saw that there is clearly more work to be done along the road I have already been travelling in relation to human rights,” Mr. MacKay said in a statement released by Saint Mary’s Friday morning.
Mr. MacKay is a professor at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law.
He was also called upon frequently to comment on the death of Nova Scotia teenager Rehtaeh Parsons. The provincial government has been focusing on raising awareness around sex and bullying following the death of Ms. Parsons, who attempted suicide after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by several young men at a party in 2011. The 17-year-old had been the victim of bullying and cyberbullying after the incident, according to her family.
Mr. MacKay and his team will make recommendations to “foster a cultural change that prevents sexual violence, inspires respectful behaviour and a safe learning environment with the Saint Mary's community,” according to the statement.
The questionable cheer recorded at Saint Mary’s is based on the word YOUNG – “Y is for your sister … U is for underage, N is for no consent … St. Mary’s boys we like them young.”
The chant 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.
“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.
Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who is a Nova Scotia MP, called the chant “offensive and dangerous.”
“As somebody who has sisters, nieces who are currently in university in Atlantic Canada, it’s deeply troubling,” he said.