MacIsaac Hall's toxic culture

 

Drinking and hook up culture as the fuel for the "raiders of the night"

 MacIsaac Hall entrance. Photo: Evan Perry.

MacIsaac Hall entrance. Photo: Evan Perry.

As I walked up the steps of my new building I heard shrieks of laughter and excitement. It was late summer and still warm out. Beers were being passed around the hallways. Second years threw their arms around each other’s necks as they reunited with old pals as anxious and eager freshmen dragged hockey bags and boxes through the hallways in anticipation for the wild and new year ahead. We had been told we were the ones – the wild ones. This was the jungle after all. The biggest party residence on campus.

Fast forward a month and I am sitting in my bed painfully hungover and drowsily depressed as I try my best to conjure up any memories I could from the night before. How much did I drink? Who did I go out with? Where was everybody? Why was I in that room? Did we hookup? Will everybody know? Did I make a fool of myself? I have to stop going out so much. I have to stop blacking out. I need to be more responsible. But I need to make friends.

For many living in this wild residence, the constant stale beer stench aside, is the best year (or two) they will spend at StFX. But for many others, this culture of partying, drinking, hooking up and trying so desperately hard to fit in contributes to a darker feeling of fear and a breeding ground for dangerous mindsets and behaviours.

This culture is deeply embedded in all things MacIsaac Hall. And while many may argue it is not the be-all-end-all or what this residence represents, there is no denying its haunting presence. Take the “MacIsaac Asshole” cheer for instance:

“We’re MacIssac assholes, the raiders of the night. We’re dirty sons of bitches that would rather fuck than fight. We carry wooden nickels and trojan condoms too. We’re MacIsaac Assholes and who the fuck are you, Fuck Burke.”

Sex, drinking, cheating and masculinity are all very apparent in this chant, and although it has been banned officially, it is often heard chanted at parties and at BurMac each year. The fact that this chant is screamed with no real thought shows how normalized toxic expression is.

I spoke to a first-year female student who lived in MacIsaac Hall this past year. Unfortunately, this story was never made public for the rest of the residents or students at the school, but one night she was intentionally drugged in MacIsaac Hall. It was a normal weekend; people were drinking and getting ready to either go out or spend the night in the building. Due to privacy reasons, I will be referring to this student as Petra for the remainder of the article. When opening up about her experience, Petra expressed that she remembers being in the emergency room and hearing the doctor tell her they had found drugs in her system. They were asking her if she had taken any drugs voluntarily and once she had expressed that she had no recollection of it, the doctor immediately started questioning her to find out if she had been left alone at any point in the night. Petra said that they were asking her these questions because they believed that someone had drugged her to take advantage of her.

“That was kind of the first thought out of everyone’s mouths. And after that I just felt so strange that it had happened in my residence, like that was the family I had built.”

The story of Petra’s experience with drinking in MacIsaac unfortunately is not an isolated event, yet many students may read this as a shock due to the lack of transparency and post-incident accountability I’ve seen in sexual violence cases on campus. I then asked Petra if she had reported her situation to an RA or someone that could help. She replied that she had been hiding in a closet out of fear and had messaged an RA that was on duty. They had told her that they were scared as well and not sure what to do, so they would call someone higher up in Res Life to handle the situation. That person then called an ambulance. When asked what had happened beyond that night Petra simply just said that she doesn’t really know what was ever done about it.

After that I was told there would be an investigation but never heard another word about it.

Why was it never brought back to her attention? Why didn’t RAs send her to the appropriate person when she reported what had happened? Why are our RAs not better trained to deal with situations like this and back them up? Petra believes that hookup culture is the motivating factor for partying and going out in Mac, and that the premeditated hookup culture has girls and boys trying extremely hard to fit the mold. She recalls seeing individuals in the residence wandering the halls in the wee hours of the morning to look for people who were drunk enough to hook up with. She relayed, “It doesn’t really matter who, they are just looking for anyone.”

She also recalled having to pretend to know other girls to get them out of uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations. To her, this is just a normal drinking night in MacIsaac Hall. Petra also describes a culture that has gone as far to involve a “points” system during big drinking events such as Homecoming, where girls would get points for hooking up with certain guys and vice versa.

Many people will see point lists and sexual jokes as simply that, a joke, but we cannot ignore the normalization of these events. Mindsets that view sexual experiences as a game or contest foster an environment where people feel the need to engage in order to “keep up” or maintain an image. Although individuals may be willing participants, it is crucial that everyone start to question these practices and “normal” events that happen in the building. There are so many external factors beyond simply saying yes or no to an activity. A lack of questioning surrounding the party status quo creates grounds where sexual assault and harassment are more acceptable and more likely to happen because warning signs are missed.

Having an active sex or party life for both men and women is 100 percent normal and 100 percent okay. It is a personal choice; people should enjoy these moments in their lives if they choose to do so. But toxic environments that pressure people into living this lifestyle or encourage unsafe activity and breed unsafe environments need to be discussed.

Heather Blackburn, SANE program coordinator at the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre lends some very valuable insight in this regard. She mentions that the presence of alcohol does not necessarily cause a higher level of sexual violence. What a heavy presence of alcohol does is increase the vulnerability of all participating individuals. Thus, individuals will possibly feel more pressure to engage in certain activities, have less of a mindset to question their own or others’ actions and even potentially get them to a place where they can no longer look out for themselves. What I am trying to shed light on is not only the criminal aspects of sexual violence that we actually hear about, but how the normalization of certain actions within party culture allows for less cut and dry actions to take place.

Blackburn sums this point up very well in saying, “When you ask people to identify forms of sexual violence it’s really easy to identify those things that are criminal. People will generally agree that sexual assault and sexual abuse is wrong. Child pornography is wrong. Those are things that are really tangible for people. What’s difficult is to identify some of those other behaviours, some of which are illegal and some of which are not.”

It is important to keep in mind that just because Mac has a large drinking culture does not mean it needs to equate to a normalized sexual violence culture. This is what needs to be tackled. There is no reason students and young people in general can’t enjoy having sex and getting drunk without violating, harassing or hurting one another. I would also like to be quite clear that under no circumstances is MacIsaac Hall the only residence on campus where issues like this occur. I chose to focus on this particular building because of the testimonies received and the current buzz surrounding the reinstating of the BurMac hockey game. Events like “culture night” that happen in MacNeil House, where it has been reported that older students put on pornography in the basement of the residence while the frosh are required to go down and watch it while wearing sweatpants, are performed under the guise of harmless fun or tradition but in reality hold strong underlying intent of sexual humiliation. These sort of events need more focus beyond this article.

The bottom line is that students need to feel safe in their homes. The collective “we” of the university, including the administration and all other levels down to peer students, have a responsibility to all individuals on campus to act in a manner that keeps them safe and happy. Environments that normalize sexual harassment and violence, such as a hyper sexualized drinking and hook up culture, need not be the focus of our residence buildings and school sanctioned events such as house cups.

We need to begin to rethink what shapes and influences our residence experience both at the time, and upon entering. We also need to train our RAs more thoroughly and keep an eye out for each other. This includes taking responsibility for our actions and language as well as holding your peers accountable when they are taking advantage of or marginalizing certain groups of people.

We need to understand that “fun and games” and “jokes” can go too far, and people’s sex lives are not something to be judged or discussed by anyone other than the person themselves. In conclusion, I am issuing a call to action to the university as well. With so much focus on shifting negative legacies of residences, let’s stop assuming that solely focusing on drinking culture is going to change further problems, such as sexual violence. Let’s take it on as its own priority and not simply under the umbrella of the negativities that a particular party culture may cause.

Read more on why we made this issue here