A Change.org petition has been launched requesting that McMaster administration “withdraw discriminatory policies” against McMaster engineering students. The petition is a response to the University’s disciplinary actions against engineering student groups due to a violent, misogynistic songbook allegedly connected to members of the Redsuits.
“Currently, more than 4,000 McMaster Engineering students have been found guilty and incapable of operating in a professional manner; none of these students will be treated equally until an investigation is complete,” the petition reads.
In January, the University publicly denounced the songbook and barred the Redsuits from organizing campus events for the remainder of the year. Redsuits from the past two years are currently ineligible to help organize Welcome Week 2014.
The student-led petition, launched on Sunday March 2, argues that the University has taken severe measures that are unfair to most McMaster engineering students. As of March 5, the petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures.
An external investigation is underway regarding the involvement of students in the songbook, which contains references to rape, mutilation, sex with minors and other graphic material. In response to possible unsanctioned alcoholic events that have come up during the investigation, the University has banned alcohol at events hosted by engineering student groups, including the annual Kipling formal for graduating students. The event is held off-campus every year following an iron ring ceremony.
“This event has had significant oversight from the Faculty of Engineering in the past, and deeming it ‘unsafe’ to serve alcohol at a rather expensive, licensed banquet hall is unprecedented,” the petition states.
Simon Almeida, a graduating student in chemical engineering, started the petition with input from other engineering students and representatives from the McMaster Engineering Society, though the MES has not officially endorsed the petition.
“It’s dangerous precedent if we say that, regardless of any evidence, the University can just single out a single faculty of 4,000 students and completely ban students from doing what’s in their civil liberties to do,” Almeida said.
“I know that there’s definitely been a shift in how other students view us and how the public views us. Even on the petition we have alumni stating that it devalues their degree to have the university step this far and associate all engineering students with the actions of four students. It really puts a black mark on a program that I’m really proud to be a part of,” he said.
“Although the MES never officially supported [Almeida’s] decision to create the petition, we wholly support our students’ rights to voice their opinions and stand by their beliefs,” said Ben Kinsella, vice-president (academic) of the MES.
In response to the petition, McMaster provost David Wilkinson said the University’s ban on alcohol for engineering student events is a necessary measure that will continue to be in place.
“The unsanctioned events that we’re investigating do have a connection with alcohol, so this seemed like an appropriate thing to control during the period that the investigation continues. We’re clearly wanting to move forward and clear the air as quickly as we possibly can but we also want to make sure we do the job thoroughly,” Wilkinson said.
“I guess I’m somewhat surprised at the importance the students place on the ability to consume alcohol at what is a great celebratory event like the Kipling formal,” he said. “I know from my own experience that engineering students have tremendous spirit and joie de vivre, and I wouldn’t think that the inability to drink at an event like that would diminish the ability of the students to have a great time.”
The petition also criticizes the University’s “decision to forego serious relations with engineering student leaders,” which Wilkinson said was an unfair comment.
“The dean of students has been meeting on a regular basis with leaders in the MES, so we are involving student leaders in the whole process and that will continue to be the case. The student leadership may wish for a broader consultative process but we’re somewhat restricted in what we can do there,” he said.
“We’re continuing to do our work and we’re doing it as quickly as we can. The petition isn’t going to have an impact on that,” Wilkinson said. “What the petition does is it brings to the fore some of the concerns brought to us by members of the student body and some of the MES leaders. I will say, however, that we’ve also gotten feedback from students who are very supportive of the approach the University is taking to address certain cultural concerns. In fact, the MES itself has outlined in a number of documents over the past few years its own concerns about certain aspects of culture within the student body.”
There is no exact date by which the external investigation is expected to be finished, though Wilkinson said he hopes a conclusion will be reached “within the next couple of months.”
This article was updated on March 5 to include comment from a MES representative.