To the St. Mary’s University frosh leaders, from a former frosh volunteer and an assault survivor.

Dear SMU frosh leaders,

It goes without saying that many in the world are watching you with gritted teeth and clenched fists. Congratulations — it’s rare that Canadian news reaches outside of Canada.

Let me preface this by saying that when I say “frosh volunteer” I don’t mean to say I was a frosh leader — “Ice Breakers” as we called them at my alma matter, Wilfrid Laurier University. I spent my latter years as a service volunteer. I represented, promoted and worked as a member of Foot Patrol, for which I was a year-round volunteer. We specialized in walking (and driving) people home after dark in well-equipped teams of two. Along with the other services represented at O-Week — BACCHUS, our safe-sex and alcohol awareness group; Peer Help Line, whose purpose is hopefully self-explanatory; EcoHawks, who promoted recycling and environmental friendliness; the Emergency Response Team; and the Student Food Bank — we helped to introduce incoming students to many of the programs and services that were there to help them through their time at Laurier. To me, that was the true spirit of O-Week, though I’m sure Ice Breakers would respectfully disagree.

Many consider the true spirit of O-Week, Frosh Week, whatever you want to call it, to be school spirit — discovering the clubs there are to join, meeting new people and, of course, cheering your hearts out. Cheers can be pretty darn silly, I’ll admit, and sometimes the content is downright nonsensical. But despite all of the nonsense I’ve witnessed, I’m confounded not only at how you were able to get away with your pro-rape cheer for several years, but why you conceived the idea in the first place.

I’m aware that as a assault survivor much of my opposition to this will be chalked up to “emotional response” and “biased.” At this point, though, I couldn’t care less.

For those of you who aren’t filled with remorse and regret over the cheer, you probably are resorting to the J-word. “Joke.” And “just.” “It’s just a joke.”

I’ve known many people who fight for the rights of the jokester. The right to categorize jokes as sacred. The idea that when we are on an elevated pedestal when we say something that makes others laugh — whether it’s in a circle of our peers or standing on a stage several feet above a crowd, microphone in hand.

But ask yourself — why do we laugh in the first place?

One has to grasp at straws to find an answer other than “rape is funny.” But we all know that it isn’t, don’t we? “Of course,” you say. “But it’s a joke?”

So again full circle — why is it a joke?

You probably can’t pinpoint the moment when you were taught that something like rape was funny. And I can’t blame you. It’s come at you from all angles. And yes, there are some areas of society in which that attitude is more saturated. But instead of pointing fingers at your parents, your sports coaches, your fraternities, I’m going to tell you who I blame:

I blame a culture that teaches young men that they’re entitled to the bodies of young women. I blame a culture that commoditizes sex. I blame a culture that makes one-liner jokes about pedophilia and child molestation such as “if there’s grass on the field, play ball” and I blame the culture that doesn’t even find that to be outrageous. I blame the culture that compares me to a Nazi because I refuse to see something like this as a joke. I blame our culture that doesn’t see a problem with Robin Thicke’s music video in which he uses nude women as props but sees a problem with a cheeky, student-made parody video in which the genders our switched. I blame people who purposely seek out drunk women because they are easier to have sex with. I blame comedians who say “Wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped right now?” and the people who laugh at them and the people who defend them. I blame a culture that allows “#itaintrapeif” to trend on Twitter. I blame schools that tell girls to consider breast reduction surgery if they’re sick of being made fun of for the size of their breasts. I blame the people who managed to convince everyone else that false rape accusations happen at the same frequency as actual rapes. I blame everyone and everything that dehumanizes women, treats them as objects, and makes them out to be prizes.

I blame the culture that told me it wasn’t rape because the person I was dating did it.

This isn’t to say you as individuals should walk away from this unscathed. But I hope that while you’re sitting through your mandatory sensitivity training — which I’m sure seems like a much worse punishment to you than it actually is — you start to think about the people and places and experiences from which you’ve learned all those little things, the little things that add up to the belief that that cheer was okay.

Then I want you to go about unlearning it. I’m not going to tell you how. You’re grown adults. Learn yourself.

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Red flags when looking for a writing job or internship.

I saw a surprising spike in followers following my entry about unpaid internships, which I appreciated very much. However, because I wrote the entry at work (naughty me!) I wasn’t able to go as in-depth as I would have liked. I also remembered a few things on the drive home that I should have mentioned, thus I figured I would post a follow-up.

Here are some red flags to look for when applying for an internship or your first writing job:

  1. The ad states, “We can’t afford to pay you right now.” If you’re searching for an internship, this is not the definition of an internship. A publication which takes on a writer or editor whom they do not intend to pay because they cannot afford it is not looking to provide scholarship and value experience; they are looking for free labour. Spend your dirt-broke intern days in a position where you can learn something.
  2. The job ad is looking to pay bloggers to do remote blogging about “any subject you want!” I have worked this kind of job before. These kinds of employers are almost always looking for general-knowledge bloggers to contribute to pages with entries containing certain keywords so that they can make an easy buck on advertising. The work you end up doing will be far too time-consuming for your compensation — which for me was somewhere around 1.25 cents a word. You usually also won’t be able to get to attach your name to the work and you will rarely be writing anything that you can put in a portfolio.
  3. A posting advertising an internship states that having your own equipment (i.e. camera, recorder) is an asset. Again, this is an indication of a company who cannot afford to provide you with the tools you need. While it’s fine to ask for experience with these things, internships are about learning. This is a sign that the company is trying to benefit from you, while an ideal internship benefits the intern more than it benefits the company.
  4. A paid writing job which charges per word/article charges less than $0.06 per word. $0.10 is standard for professionals.
  5. The job posting is for a brand new publications (raise a second red flag if they won’t even say the name of the publication). They’ll say things like “join our growing family!” With this kind of job you will find the same problems indicated in 1) and 3). Unfortunately in major cities full of general and specialty publications, these publications are not likely to last. Don’t take a chance on these things while you’re still young and starting out — you don’t want to risk going through the process of finding a new job only a few more months down the road. Save these risks for when you’re further established in your career. Get your first job with a more established publication if you can, where you can learn the ropes from people who learned years ago, not people who are learning as they go along.