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Public editor: Frosh chants and the importance of calling it like it is

A spokesman for Saint Mary’s University in Halifax says senior administrators were shocked after seeing a video of students in a frosh-week chant condoning non-consensual sex with underage girls.

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A reader asked this week about the media's stories on the frosh chants at Saint Mary's University and University of British Columbia. She wondered why the term "non-consensual sex" was being used rather than rape or sexual assault. By way of background, the story refers to a chant from St. Mary's about young women (in part: Y is for your sister, U for underage, N for no consent).

"I am not familiar with the term 'non-consensual sex'. Honestly, I am a bit baffled because it appears to be a whitewash for rape. As in – 'Hey, it's just another kind of sex, folks. Don't judge. Nothing criminal to see here,'" she said.

What I found was that although the term "non-consensual sex" was used in some stories published by The Globe and likely based on the wording used in the chant, many other stories referred to a "rape chant", including one on Thursday by columnist Russell Smith about the problems with frosh week.

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Here are a few more references:

This comment article by a University of Victoria assistant teaching professor discussed the problem with rape culture.

This news article about the student president at Saint Mary's University quitting over the "rape chant."

Another about the frosh "rape-themed" cheer.

And this one about the "rape chant."

Still, there have been other references to the sexual assault chant and also non-consensual sex, like this one about a statement from Saint Mary's University.

Elena Cherney, The Globe's managing editor, said: "Language matters and using the term non-consensual sex does not take the issue as seriously as it should." I agree that it is important to be fairly reported and unflinching about the wording used.

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If you would like to e-mail me about this or any other journalistic issue, please do so at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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