A supposed spirit-building exercise at Ryerson University took an undignified turn when scantily dressed engineering students were led on a crawl across a slushy pond, drawing angry condemnation from the school's president.
The apparent hazing came to light after a blogger posted video online of dozens of Ryerson engineers, who had been chosen as a new crop of student leaders, snaking their way on hands and knees across a slushy man-made pond in the middle of campus – many wearing little more than their underwear – at the urging of more senior students.
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy expressed "shock and anger in the face of this departure from dignity" in a strongly worded statement released Saturday.
"There is no excuse for the completely unacceptable behaviour that took place at the event," he said.
The students' romp is a tradition dating back seven years, often including students in silly costumes dancing and forming conga lines through downtown Toronto as a way of "growing bonds," according to Rose Ghamari, president of the Ryerson Engineering Student Society (RESS). "Its intention is really only to be a demonstration of spirit and enthusiasm for engineering. Our intention was never to be hazing or anything of the sort," she said.
But she acknowledged this year's event, which took place Thursday, "started to get out of hand," and that "there are certain things that we know that happened that were clearly unacceptable."
University leaders will meet with the RESS on Monday to discuss the incident and, depending on the meeting's outcome, some students could face discipline.
In one incident caught on video, one of the male leaders in charge of the event appears to slap the buttocks of a female student as she crawls on all fours. A university spokesman confirmed the two students are friends, and the female student doesn't plan to pursue any discipline. But Ms. Ghamari stressed the RESS does "not endorse any sort of physical contact" and will address the incident.
Despite agreeing the gathering went too far, Ms. Ghamari insisted no one was pressured to participate, and she has heard no complaints from anyone involved.
"It's not mandatory for [anyone] because you have already been selected as a leader," she said, noting only about half of the newly chosen student leaders took part in the optional event. "No one was asked to dress in a certain way. ... No one is asked to take off any clothes."
Several people claiming to have participated also defended the event on the comment board of the blog where the video was posted.
That may not be enough to mollify outraged university leaders, however.
"We have very strong policies in place that have been invoked immediately to deal with those involved," Dr. Levy's statement said.