A first-year Woodsworth College student was reportedly assaulted during orientation activities last month.
The Bed Races are an annual event hosted by the Faculty of Engineering, in which different divisions on campus build a bed on wheels and race down King’s College Road.
During the event, the engineers fire off their official mascot, Ye Olde Mighty Skule Cannon. A first year student at Woodsworth college, who has asked to remain anonymous, recalls being approached by two of the cannon guards while they were marshalling the crowd out of the way to transport the cannon to a safe location to fire.
According to the student, one of the guards aggressively told them to move, to which the student responded, “No,” because she did not know who he was.
“He said move again, but before I could do anything, he put his arms out to push me and [the guard] to his left also got his hands out to push me,” the student said. She added that they did not let go until one of the female guards told the other guards to stop.
After the cannon was fired, the guards dispersed. The student later reported the assault to members of Woodsworth Orientation, and they offered her support.
Alyy Patel, one of Woodsworth College’s Orientation Coordinators, told The Varsity: “The student was extremely upset and immediately reported it to a Woodsworth Orientation Executive, Stephanie Bianco [sic]. Stephanie reported it to me, and I advised her to tell the Blue and Gold Committee Co-Chair, Ozan [Coskun], immediately as I was under the impression that he would take action. Instead, he responded to Stephanie by saying, ‘well she shouldn’t have been in the way’ and didn’t acknowledge the fault of their cannon guards.” The Blue and Gold Committee runs many activities within the engineering community, including the event in question. Coskun has since denied having made these statements.
The student received an email from the Blue and Gold Committee a week later, which read: “We wanted to apologize for the distress you felt during the Bed Races as it was not at all the intentions of us or any of the other participants in the event.” The email did not use the word ‘assault.’
In an interview with The Varsity, the Blue and Gold Committee co-chairs Coskun and Joshua Calafato stated, “From the story that was told to us, we do not think that ‘assault’ is an appropriate term for the situation. There was no intention to hurt the student, and no injuries resulted from the event.”
They also added, “[The Cannon Guards] were looking out for her safety, as well as the safety of other students, during the event. To call this an assault, we think there would need to be more serious disregard for the students’ safety, a lack of stopping when the student yelled stop, or any injury to the student.”
When asked what changes should be made in order to prevent further incidents, the Blue and Gold Committee wrote, “We believe that the best way to prevent events like this from happening in the future is to provide education to other college/faculty OCs, Orientation Leaders, and first years. The Cannon Guards are all leaders at U of T, and all are kind people who undergo equity trainings just as the rest of the Orientation Week leaders do.”
Patel stated that better communication and planning is needed. She added that “cannon guards should be told that this isn’t okay and let this be a precedent of behaviour that is unacceptable. If it isn’t recognized now, instances such as these will continue to go unrecognized and that isn’t fair to anyone involved — especially not those who are assaulted.” Patel believes, “The way engineering is handling this situation is an extension of male privilege that is present in their faculty.”
The student stated that she would like “an internal investigation for who the guys were.” She said her next step might be to report the incident to Campus Police.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the article misspelled the names of Joshua Calafato and Stephanie Bianco. Also, a previous version of this article stated that the Blue and Gold Committee was responsible for the firing of the cannon. The committee organized the event, but is not directly responsible for the cannon and its guards. The Varsity regrets the errors.