Every year during Frosh Week, the first years are introduced to a seemingly beautiful and welcoming community. A community where you are told, “it’s okay to be who you are.” The three pillars of student life are introduced – the Cannon, the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad, and the ever elusive BFC. The Cannon mystifies, the Bnad aggravates and amuses, and the BFC excites. I personally was thrilled to be a part of this amazing community which was apparently very inclusive! But I should’ve started seeing the holes in the inclusivity, starting on just the second day of Frosh Week.
That day, some frosh (only the more “hype” ones) received mysterious cards that told them to meet at a predetermined location and time, where they were introduced to the BFC. The events of that night concluded with a sign-up to join the frosh mailing list. As the year went on, I noticed the number of frosh attending pranks dwindling, but there were a few students who would always remain until the very end of each build. The following year, I was surprised to learn that the individuals who worked away till the crack of dawn at these pranks had not even made it on the mailing list, while others, who had arguably not put in as much time and effort, were now ministers. This year, I noticed something even more worrying: the number of events that frosh were invited to had decreased tremendously. Most events were by invitation only, and the criteria for receiving an invitation were extremely vague.
Perhaps these are the issues that come with a secret society. The Cannon Guard suffered from similar issues as well; guard training used to be invitation only, until this year’s Chief realized that wasn’t a fair way to do things. After all, s/he could not know everyone who had an interest in protecting the Skule mascot. However, there still exists a lot of ambiguity as to what it takes to become Chief and one of the trusted guards, or LTs, as they are called. The selection process is never clearly defined, and the response to requests for clarification is always, “just be involved and Chief will notice you.”
While the Cannon and the BFC’s lack of transparency and accountability may be attributed to their need for secrecy and safety, the leaders (or “leedurs” as they choose to call themselves) of the Bnad don’t seem to be selected according to any concrete criteria either. The Bnad Leedurs claim to choose their successors based on musical talent, leadership qualities, and involvement, but Bnad Leedurs in the past arguably have been chosen without meeting any of these criteria. Recently there have been leedurs who have barely made it out to Bnad events chosen over those who go religiously. While some may enjoy the ‘frat house’ environment of the Bnad, most frosh (and even upper years) are intimidated by it, and that can be seen in the dwindling number of frosh coming out to Bnad events.
Furthermore, the criterion that leedurs should have musical talent calls their slogan into question: “everyone is welcome, regardless of musical ability.” It’s understandable that the Bnad Leedur should have some degree of musical talent, since it is a band and someone has to be able to carry a tune. But the Bnad is first and foremost a spirit group; the most critical question when it comes to choosing more senior roles should be “who would create a welcoming environment for frosh?” Moreover, the Bnad should be helping members interested in becoming a Leedur develop said musical skills, instead of choosing someone based solely on a skill that can be picked up with a reasonable amount of effort over the winter and summer, when events are far and few in between. It was thus quite apt when a former Bnad Leedur mockingly put up a Project Director nomination sheet on the door of the Bnad room.
The lack of inclusivity is not limited to the Trinity. EngSoc and Blue & Gold have had their fair share of problems as well. When EngSoc elections came around, I witnessed students with excellent platforms and ideas lose to those who were a bit more popular. I noticed a similar (and to an extent more worrying) trend with the Blue & Gold chairs; the attendees of election night (a Friday night towards the end of the semester) are mostly those who attend SUDS, and these individuals tend to belong to the same general group of friends.
Once I started to look for it, I realized a lot of people had similar stories to tell. Leaders who had helped me around in first year and who I was positive were part of the BFC told me how their efforts and involvement over the last four years somehow wasn’t actually enough to get them in. “Yeah, you got in because you’re best buds with one of the people in it,” remarked one individual, followed by a solemn nod from another. Skule is full of stories like these, be they about the Bnad Leedur, Project Directorship Committees, or EngSoc Board of Director positions. Most Skuligans seem to be full of malaise, but those in charge fail to recognize that due to a lack of similar experiences.
Bnad Leedurs, Chiefs, Mario and his ministers all end up coming from the same group of people. Skule is unfortunately somewhat of a circle-jerk. The individuals who get involved in first year are the only ones who stay involved throughout, and it’s extremely difficult for new people to assimilate, unless one plays by the rules and befriends the core group of people. Merit, hard work, and ironically “involvement” seem to have little place in this community. For this very reason, sometimes even those who do get involved in first year don’t remain involved. The problem is a bit bigger than nepotism though, considering that friendship is usually based on shared experiences and backgrounds. This excludes a large group of people, such as those who didn’t go to high school in Canada. While the odd introvert does get included, upon speaking to them one realizes that they just “knew a person,” or had worked extremely hard to overcome the more inhibited parts of their personality.
Skule needs to become aware of its faults before it can start fixing them. If Skuligans keep on insisting that Skule is an equitable place but keep on disregarding the differences of those from different backgrounds, or with different personalities, Skule will never become more inclusive. The “Equity and Inclusivity” directorship is the start of acknowledging that something is broken, but the three months that it took to review and accept the creation of this directorship indicate bigger problems. Creating directorships like these is futile if community members and especially the Board of Directors fail to accept that there is a problem. People fear losing Skule traditions and culture, but for a culture based on exclusivity, the time is ripe for change.
Skule is not inclusive and I wish it would stop masquerading as such. It is rotten with exclusion and bias, and little is being done to fix it. What EngSoc and the other ex-officios fail to realize is that most general members don’t care about them. EngSoc elections are poorly attended (and the voter turnout speaks to this fact: last year, only 7.5% of eligible voters casted a ballot for President), and that is because people do not see Skule as a place of equal opportunity. In contrast, design teams thrive because they are based on what engineers understand best: merit. Skule leaders need to take a lesson from this, and make an active effort to be more inclusive: to collaborate with groups often left out, to understand their own bias, and to find ways to tackle their conflicts of interest.