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McMaster suspends engineering student group over ‘repugnant’ sexist songbook

McMaster University’s campus is shown in 2005.

JASON JONES/JASON JONES PHOTOGRAPHY

A book of vulgar and sexually explicit songs compiled by engineering students has led McMaster University to suspend a student group's activities and launch an investigation.

University administrators learned of the songbook in recent days and quickly suspended the Redsuits, a group affiliated with the student-run McMaster Engineering Society, from participating in campus events, including fall orientation, and barred alcohol at engineering society functions.

Some material in the 35-page book is "highly repugnant," said provost David Wilkinson, containing graphic lyrics that are "sexist, violent and degrading." And it has surfaced just months after first-year students chanting about non-consensual sex during orientation events at two other Canadian universities raised questions about whether campus cultures condone sexual violence.

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Just this week, U.S. President Barack Obama launched a task force aimed at curbing high numbers of college sexual assaults.

The university does not know if the book is being actively used. Five McMaster engineering students are listed as having compiled it, and some are still believed to be enrolled, but the university has no evidence the songs have been sung publicly, Dr. Wilkinson said. The Redsuits, a group dedicated to student spirit and charity work named for the red jumpsuits they wear, have at least 100 members, though it is not clear how many knew of the book.

But the university has also heard allegations of "unsanctioned events" involving the Redsuits, and will appoint an outside investigator to probe the matter. The length of the suspension will be determined after the investigation.

"It's an indication that at this point in their lives, young people are often struggling with issues of identity and belonging, and sometimes that goes in very inappropriate directions," Dr. Wilkinson said. "We need to understand something about the subculture that has led to the development of a book like this."

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About the Author
Banking Reporter

James Bradshaw is banking reporter for the Report on Business. He covered media from 2014 to 2016, and higher education from 2010 to 2014. Prior to that, he worked as a cultural reporter for Globe Arts, and has written for both the Toronto section and the editorial page. More

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