Nepotism in Skule

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.

32 comments

  • Someone’s sour…

  • Connor Singleton

    Are you just upset that Chief and Mario wouldn’t put it up your rear for you when you asked them to?

  • My two cents are the exact same cents that I put forward when faced with the stupidity of SOSkule when I was Mario: one can point out all the unfairness and inequality one wants, but if one doesn’t put forward any sort of suggestions for how to change or improve, one is wasting one’s own time and the time of everyone reading the article. The article points out that it’s a bunch of the same people all circle jerking around. K. And? I didn’t know how to fix it, the current people obviously don’t know how to fix it, and the future people will not know how to fix it. As omnipotent and shrouded in secrecy as these societies are, they’re made up of plain, regular, fallible people, and since they’re secret societies, they generally follow a (flawed) tradition year to year, because that’s unfortunately what makes it easiest for them to continue year to year.

    If one has a problem, one should stop whining and start suggesting. Make an anonymous suggestion thread. Put a board on a wall to allow people to pin suggestions to it. Slide pieces of paper under the door of the respective doors of the societies that you hate the practices of.

    Whining points out the inequalities, but it makes the people in charge of those groups say “K. And?”, and then they move on and continue status quo. That’s what I did. I brainstormed with my committee, came up with nothing, and then went about my day.

    Just some thoughts from an old guy who has been through this before.

  • Hey Peter! I’m wondering what sorts of things you’ve come up with (in your committee) and if that was shared across the various groups and whatnot. I’ve had similar thoughts before as someone who started off very involved in Skule activities, but was uninvolved for a prolonged period of time and then found it somewhat intimidating to try and get back, especially when most of my friends were no longer involved.

    There are people who of course, aren’t wholly interested in Skule stuff and have interests outside (e.g. other clubs and student groups) which is fine and dandy if they don’t care to be involved, but what sorts of ideas did you have for people that did want to get involved but didn’t know where to start or who to talk to, and might not “fit in” or are already friends with the people that make up that core community? I wonder all the time how a community – any community – can best support and re-integrate members that might have left but want to return.

    Thanks in advance!

  • EngSoc and student politic issues aside, as far as Skule goes if you are only participating in events at Skule in order to land one of the “leadership” positions such as Chief, LT, Bnad Leedur, or Minister, you are being involved for probably the wrong reasons. I, for my entire undergrad including PEY and for a while afterwards as well, was involved in a lot of Skule things, and was never chosen for any of the positions listed, but that wasn’t the driving force behind me participating. I participated because I had fun at events, liked the people, and enjoyed contributing to Skule spirit.

    As far as the reduction in attendance of events after the first few, of course that’s going to happen. You’re going to have a lot of people who show up and realize that it’s not for them, or maybe they’re getting slammed with assignments and can’t sacrifice the evening to work on a prank or guard an event, or maybe they joined one of the other plethora of groups that are a part of Skule and don’t have time for both (design teams, newspaper groups, community groups, etc). If you look around, you’ll find that pretty much every group is very open and welcome to anyone joining and participating.

    It may be that communication of some of the more “secret” events (prank building) is not as good as it should be, but that’s a work in process. You have to also remember that some of this stuff may involve doing things that we aren’t supposed to, so it’s sometimes harder to advertise.

    There’s also probably a slight confirmation bias in some of your points, in that “the people who are involved are typically the ones you see being involved”. The fact that the people who attend SUDS are also the ones that are seen at events is a correlation, not a causation.

    Point being, if you want to be involved in Skule, do it because you enjoy contributing and participating in Skule spirit, not because you want a fancy hardhat. The rewards for helping to build that cool prank should be getting to see people enjoy your cool prank, not some superficial title. To that end, when it comes to being able to participate in events, I’d say that the community is doing much better than you seem to think.

  • I have heard this anonymous statement many times from many different people at Skule. I have even heard it from people in the groups wanting to get the head position of leedur, Mario and Chief.
    I agree with Peter that the Trinity really can’t do much without constructive criticism. But in the meantime​, I have some suggestions for people who want to be involved but don’t get invited to things or don’t have an ‘in’.
    If you feel out of place at an event, introduce yourself to someone. Ask for help if you don’t know what to do, people are nicer than they appear.
    Every frosh that comes into skule IS part of the BFC, the BNAD and the Cannon. All skuligans can play the kazoo, protect the cannon and suggest pranks. You don’t need a cape or hardhat to be part of things, just an email. Email the crap out of the people in charge if you have an idea for an event, a prank or want to be involved.
    Remember that if you are giving good ideas and get involved and you don’t get chosen for a position, you are still part of that group and can keep offering your help. Don’t do it for the cape, do it for the fun.

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Hey folks,

    I’m sorry to tell you that you are not only mistaken, you appear to be willfully spreading misinformation. “Every frosh that comes into skule IS part of the BFC, the BNAD and the Cannon.” – repeating ad-nauseum the slogans recited time and time again doesn’t change the fact that these are incredibly exclusionary, sexist, and ableist organizations. They actively contribute to the creation of a culture that not only is not welcoming to many students, but prides itself on its ability to oppress racialized students and other intersectional groups.

    Respectfully,

    Jessie Redgrove

  • @Jessie honestly special snowflakes like you are what’s wrong with U of T

    get off your frigging pity parade

  • I believe that people get intimidated and stop believing that they can be a part of the Trinity if they want to. I don’t believe it is misinformation, especially in my experience. I stopped being involved to focus on grades and mental health. When I felt stable enough to get back involved, I wasn’t close with the leaders and wasn’t getting emailed anymore so I emailed instead.
    I believe since my frosh year, 6 years ago, the Trinity has become more inclusive of women especially and I expect the trend to continue.
    If oppression and exclusion is occurring, the leaders of these groups are not doing it purposefully and they definitely are not bragging about it. I will have to search for evidence of their “pride”.
    I agree the Trinity has a long way to go but they are already actively trying to be more inclusive. In my opinion, it is only going to get better from here.

  • “prides itself on its ability to oppress racialized students and other intersectional groups.”

    Can you provide any examples?

  • Hi Fan,

    The main thing I can tell you to do, as Pearl said above, is to email the leader of the group you want to be involved with. Since it’s a “secret” group, it is very hard for Mario to go around publicly talking to people about the BFC to judge their interest. If you want to do things, send an friendly email. I promise you it will get read. I can count on three fingers the number of emails I got from random people in Skule asking to be involved, and I replied to each one personally, telling them the next event (if one was planned) or making sure they were added to the mailing list for the next prank. It may seem intimidating, but I promise you that Mario will appreciate it, and will invite you to the next large event. Just keep in mind that sometimes there are sketchier pranks that not everyone is invited to, because more people=more risk of getting caught. Don’t be discouraged by that, and don’t be discouraged by a lapse in attendance. I assure you that if you want to be involved, you definitely can be.

    Have fun!

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Greetings Eric,

    Thank you for contributing to the discussion. However, if your privilege as a white, cishet male renders you incapable of viewing and understanding the oppression of those around you, it is not our responsibility to provide examples in a (likely futile) attempt to educate you.

    If you look at the racial and gender demographics of the groups in question, your question will answer itself.

    Again thank you for your contribution, no matter how misguided it may be.

    Cheers,

    Jessie Redgrove

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Hi Pearl,

    Have you considered that your “experience” might not be the best way to judge your environment? As a cishet yt, your privilege apparently has prevented you from being able to appreciate the oppressive nature of the groups you create yet proclaim to be open and welcoming.

    Are you unable to comprehend the racism and ableism inherent in saying that people should just “email instead”?

    Thank you for your generous contribution to the discussion, despite your inherently oppressive viewpoint.

    Best,

    Jessie Redgrove

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Hi Keith,

    Your words will likely trigger individuals who have the misfortune to be exposed to you. I’d ask you to refrain from making such obnoxious comments and instead contribute to maintaining this as a safe space for all.

    Best regards,

    Jessie Redgrove

  • Whom’st’ve’d wo(mans) is this that just assumed Eric’s gender/sexual orientation

  • I’m surprised you consider a single sentence on my behalf to be a contribution at all… (I don’t)

    Futile as it may be, I invite you to provide examples anyways. I’ll bear the burden of educating myself, as like you said, it’s not your responsibility.

  • Hey Peter,

    Thanks for the response! I’m on mobile and completely missed Pearl’s comment earlier (and the original comment, also the thread seemed to have unfortunately devolved into personal attacks smh) and only saw your comment which I mistook as the original top comment. Just wanted to clear that up that I wasn’t trying to single you out of ill-will or anything.

    Yeah, I know where the resources are to contact the groups and whatnot, but I don’t think that’s the case for everyone (or they know where to look) how have people tried to fix it, or thought of ways to fix it in the past? I get the emails from the BFC and CA and I know they’re always open to feedback, but as someone who’s been involved and knows how to get involved, my perspective wouldn’t be the same as someone who actually felt lost or excluded. I guess my biggest question would then just be how do we get fresh blood, or get people to provide suggestions in a productive manner (rather than just pointing out all the perceived wrongs, as done in this article). The same people do keep getting involved in the conversation too, so it’s hella difficult to know what people are complaining actually want.

    Sorry that kind of turned into a rant in the end, but I appreciate what you (and the other people that ran these emails and events) have done, and I get that there’s been a lot of improvement despite it not being as visible.

  • Wait pretty sure Eric is half Asian, and how do you know if he is straight or not?

  • Jessie,

    I am indeed struggling to comprehend the racism and ableism inherent in suggesting someone send an email in this context. Perhaps it has something to do with being a “misguided” and “incapable” white, cishet male. I don’t know of many other clubs or associations in which there is an alternative to approaching the leadership or other participants in order to participate yourself. What inherently makes this racist or ableist?

    I would genuinely appreciate your input to better understand your stance.

  • Imad Abdulkadir

    Okay, but as a racialized person who is having trouble understanding how, specifically, the culture oppresses racialized students, I would implore you to please share with us the reasoning behind this claim. I’m not in any way claiming you’re wrong, but from my experience of not being able to find personal examples leads me ignorant to such oppression and exclusion, whatever it might be. I also understand that it isn’t the obligation of someone oppressed to explain their experience, but there really isn’t any other means of educating ourselves outside of asking this of you. There is no data about Skule culture because it’s so amorphous, and to the best of my knowledge a lot of minority groups within Skule don’t specifically refer to Skule culture in the manner this article touches upon. I’m interested in making a change to a problem, but it’s hard to when we can’t even define the problem.

  • @Jessie Redgrove,

    You don’t owe an explanation of your feelings. it’s not your burden to educate others who are ignorant. I would however caution you to not speak on others behalf’s, or assume things based on how you perceive others… that in itself is a very oppressive viewpoint.

    I would also like to say that countering peoples genuine questions with ungrounded insults is generally ineffective at solving a problem. Making the discussion so toxic that no one wants to get involved will not solve the issues you are seeking to. You can’t fix this without the people you label as oppressors.

  • Hi Fan, I didn’t think you were in any way singling me out or anything, and I appreciate the fact that you aren’t saying that I have no right to an opinion and cannot understand differing viewpoints because of my gender/race etc. like other people… but I digress.

    Honestly, while I was in charge, we put thought into it, and couldn’t come up with an effective way to involve those who feel lost or excluded. The fact that the BFC is a “secret” group for necessary reasons really hinders its ability for outreach beyond allowing people to sign up for mailing lists, encouraging them to email Mario, or making suggestions on the website. Maybe we couldn’t think of new ideas because we were too close to it to get our minds outside the box, but even now I can’t think of any other better ways to do so without compromising the necessary secrecy.

    Any ideas? I promise I’ll pass them on to the right people.

  • “Hey lessers,

    I REALLY hate to have to say this, like I don’t sign onto Facebook to say stuff like this believe me guys, but you’re WRONG and I’m right and you probably even know you’re wrong and you’re doing it anyway! The trinity are EXCEPTIONALLY racist, sexist, and ableist. Trust me, I don’t just say this about literally everything! You think they’re running clubs and making pranks? Wrong, they’re actually plotting ways to oppress more intersectional groups in their spare time, it’s the thing they’re proud of. I know these things of course.

    Pedantically,
    Jessie Regrove”

  • “Greetings MALE (aka good fucking luck kiddo),

    B-b-back up with examples? Uh… well you see……………… YOU’RE A WHITE MALE!!!!!!!

    Thank you for your contribution.

    Totes casual,
    Jessie Redface”

  • “Casual Hi (cause I’m not hostile right?),

    You’re totally down with your genitals right? Yeeeaaah, that’s a problem, cause now the experiences you felt aren’t exactly… valid, so I’ll put “experiences” in sneer quotes to let you know, k?

    Anyways unless you’re going-to-university-but-can’t-use-email levels of oppressed, maybe just turn off your eyes ears and mouth and hand them to me because aren’t just wrong, you were BORN WRONG.

    Besties <3
    Jessie Redwings"

  • “Hi Keith,

    I’ll say your words are triggering, I’ll say you’re obnoxious, I’ll say you should make this a safe space…. yet I’m not going to say you’re wrong about me.

    Best regards,
    Jessie Redsauce”

  • This is some bullshit.

  • Your article started so good. Anecdotes, opinions, thoughts are all excellent things to share in an opinion piece. Unfortunately by the end you’re writing omnipotently. “Skule is not inclusive” “little is being done to fix it.” “EngSoc and the other ex-officios fail to realize… most general members don’t care about them.” “people do not see Skule as a place of equal opportunity” “design teams thrive because they are based on what engineers understand best: merit”

    This part is so inflammatory. You’re speaking like fucking God here, stating your opinions and anecdotes as facts and realities. I don’t THINK you see yourself that way, I think it’s just bad grammar/writing and letting your emotions run hot down the page without editing after. So, I edited your last paragraph. I think it sends the same message, consider the differences.

    “Skule can still be more inclusive and I wish people didn’t see it as “good enough”. It still has exclusion and bias, and I seldom hear talk of fixing it. EngSoc and the other ex-officios may overestimate their relevancy to the average student. 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 maybe that is because people do not see Skule as a place of equal opportunity. Skule leaders should make an active effort to be more inclusive: collaborate with more clubs, understand there’s still room for improvement, and find ways to tackle conflicts of interest.”

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Hi Robyn,

    Name one non-binary PoC involved in Skule. I’ll wait.

    #Inclusivity2k17

  • Jessie Redgrove

    Are you really so annoyed by this discussion that you’re stooping to ad-hominem attacks? I’m trying to have an honest discussion with you about how we can make our community better and you’re just throwing mud at me? I really don’t get why you’re doing this.

    Either way, have a nice evening!

  • “Ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is now usually understood as a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.”

    What you threw at Eric and Pearl when they were trying to make legitimate points is called ad hominem. What I’m doing is called parody, a device used to criticize and/or make fun of the original author. Do you know what I’m parodying? Your racial and sexual use of ad hominem to fight for your perception of racial and sexual justice. It almost parodies itself.

  • Hi Jessie,

    Name one non-binary PoC that attempted to be involved in Skule and were made to feel like they weren’t welcome. I’ll wait.

    #correlationvscausation

    #contraryforthesakeofbeingcontrary2k17

    #bringexamplestothetable

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