Volume 96, Issue 100
Tuesday, April 8, 2003

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Nobody's laughing at the joke

Ivey formal not amusing

To the Editor:

I am approaching the end of my undergraduate career at Western and I have had a good run. That said, I was deeply offended by the sexist and homophobic "jokes," directed at students and faculty alike, to which I was subjected – along with the other students, faculty and guests – at the HBA formal on Mar. 29, 2003.

Over the past four years, I have leant my enthusiastic endorsement to Western, in both official and unofficial capacities. I have raved about Western as a campus tour guide and a soph, in Western promotional material and at recruiting events, as an exchange student in Scotland – and as a sister, a cousin, a friend and a feminist.

I think it's important that students at Western recognize that sexist "jokes" constitute sexual harassment. Allow me to defer to the Western Equity Services Web site which states: The Ontario Human Rights Code defines harassment in Section.10 as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be unwelcome."

The sexist comments [displayed] at the HBA formal were not only unwelcome, they also contribute to a "chilly climate" for women at Western that harms everyone. A 1989 Equity Services report entitled "The Chilly Climate for Faculty Women at Western: Postscript to the Backhouse Report" documented confidential testimony of "an unending barrage of sexual jokes, sexual commentary and sexist humour. Sexist jokes are routinely told not only in private, but in departmental meetings and quite public contexts. Often part of the fun seems to be to see how the faculty women will respond" (p. 34).

I am shocked and disappointed that, more than a decade later, some Western students still think it's OK to serve up that 1989 recipe for sexual harassment at Western. At the HBA formal, this included "sexual jokes, sexual commentary and sexist humour," in the most "public" of "contexts."

I commend HBA students and administration on their efforts to address these comments thus far and hope that they follow through with a systemic response.

I have always been welcomed warmly into the Richard Ivey School of Business fold, although I am not a business student. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the integrity of my valued friends in the HBA program, and their positive contributions to the Western and London communities. I seek not to malign Ivey students, but to raise awareness about the persistence of specific, unacceptable behaviour at this university.

My intention in writing this letter is to jolt all Western students, faculty and administration out of their complacency on issues of gender equality. I believe that dialogue and transparency are integral to the un-learning of the attitudes that inform sexism. I encourage Western students, faculty and staff to talk to each other about these issues and make good use of the resources provided by the Women's Issues Network, the Pride Library and Equity Services.

Spring might be around the corner, but Western's "chilly climate" just dropped a few degrees. I hope that students, faculty and administration, within the HBA program and throughout Western, take this opportunity to renew systemic initiatives to raise the temperature, and the bar, on gender equality.

Liane Macdonald
Scholars Electives IV
Internal Relations Manager
The Women's Issues Network

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2002 THE GAZETTE