Carleton frosh organizers are under fire after photos surfaced on various social media platforms showing orientation week leaders wearing shirts that say “FUCK SAFE SPACE.”
Leslie Robertson, an Ottawa lawyer, said she was attending the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Brewer Park around noon on Sept. 7, just across the street from Carleton, when she saw students wearing the shirt.
Robertson tweeted a photo showing two men wearing a black tank top with neon green writing while walking near the market.
The Charlatan identified two individuals wearing the shirts in the photographs, but they did not respond to requests for comment.
Robertson said she saw “hundreds of people lingering on a lawn” near the market, including handfuls of both men and women wearing the offending shirt. Others were also wearing shirts with Greek letters to represent their fraternities and sororities. They were chanting “F U Ottawa U,” she said.
“There was clearly a party,” Robertson said. “At first glance you were like ‘Oh, look there’s a bunch of Carleton students partying,’ and then when we saw these shirts. It was no longer fun for us.”
Photos of other frosh week leaders wearing the shirt were posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram but have since been deleted.
“You don’t really need context when you’re walking down the street and you see that shirt,” said Robertson. “It makes you feel unsafe.”
Frosh week is organized by Carleton’s student experience office and is facilitated by the Carleton University Students’ Association.
Fall orientation co-ordinator Charles McIvor said student frosh leaders must respect safe space rules throughout orientation week. This includes promoting respectful dialogue and refraining from alcohol consumption.
Carleton has a safe-space program which it defines as a “university-wide initiative to reduce the impact of homophobia and heterosexism on campus.”
McIvor said the shirts were unrelated to frosh but that he wasn’t sure why student leaders were seen wearing them.
McIvor declined to comment when asked when this contract ends.
Frosh week officially ended on Sept. 5, according to Carleton’s director of student affairs Ryan Flannagan.
Some students say the shirts were worn at a post-frosh party in protest of a clause in their orientation contract which prohibits swearing throughout the week.
One student frosh facilitator who said he was not wearing the shirt but wishes to remain anonymous, said the meaning behind it has been twisted.
“Rape is an awful crime and we would never promote such ridiculous behaviour,” he wrote to The Charlatan. “The shirts were merely a statement against the coddling of first year students. Being told that we shouldn’t swear around them in no way helps to ease them into university life. They will be exposed to such language throughout the rest of the year.”
While some have accused frosh leaders of promoting rape culture by wearing clothing that denounces “safe space,” the source called the phrase “an umbrella term . . . for all things that may make a new student uncomfortable.”
“No 18-year-old feels accepted when they’re treated like a five-year-old,” he said. “Especially when this is their first experience moving out on their own.”
CUSA president Folarin Odunayo said the shirts “have nothing to do” with the student union.
“I don’t have any knowledge to the origins,” he said. “CUSA will continue to abide by the university’s safe space policy.”
Carleton released a statement saying they are investigating the incident.
“University policy prohibits activities which contravene the guiding ethics of our institution,” the statement said.
Flannagan said that although the frosh facilitator contract prohibits swearing, there are instances during the week when the university is lenient, for instance during the annual concert.
“We’re not zealots about it,” he said. “Somebody can drop the F-bomb and myself and other people aren’t walking up to them saying ‘hey, we’re pulling your shirt.’”
He noted that the university would look into students’ concerns about swearing during its investigation.
“Obviously we’re not happy. The shirt . . . is highly inappropriate,” Flannagan said. “It’s not an appropriate or accurate reflection of the community or any of our programs. I think it’s some poor decision making on the part of some people that are probably exhausted, probably a little alcohol involved, and just not making a good decision.”