The Arts and Science Federation of Associations may be hailing their Ultimate chocolate wrestling Valentine’s party held last Friday as a success, but both administration officials and students believe the event should never have happened in the first place.
On Feb. 11, ASFA VP communications Natasha Launi received an email from Dean of Students Elizabeth Morey indicating that both she and Dean of Arts and Science Brian Lewis strongly disapproved of the chocolate wrestling event to be held that night at PJ O’Hara’s bar.
The event featured four guys and four girls wrestling in a pool of chocolate in order to win prizes. It was created by Launi and Kyle Smith of the Stingers football team, with the help of ASFA’s VP social Allie McDonald. Proceeds from the night went to Concordia’s delegation at the Communication Games and the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program.
Morey stated in her email that, after receiving complaints from students regarding the party’s promotional material, she decided to take a look at the event’s banner on ASFA’s website, which featured two girls in sportswear wrestling in chocolate.
“Although the event also includes men, so it cannot be ‘technically’ called sexist, the image of your website will be perceived that way,’’ said Morey. “Should this receive widespread publicity, you should expect some very negative reactions from students.’’
Morey stated that the chocolate wrestling competition and the advertisement “cheapens and diminishes the good work” ASFA has done in the past year. However, Lewis never brought up the subject when he attended ASFA’s council meeting for the first time last Thursday, one day prior to the event.
“It is quite possible he had no idea of the event then, he might have only found out about it when the Dean of Students spoke to him about it on Friday,” said Concordia’s media relations director Chris Mota. “There was no question of the deans intervening or imposing sanctions. They were just generally disappointed.”
After reading Morey’s email, Launi took down the banner on the website. She had already put up new posters days earlier featuring a pool instead of the two girls due to complaints from students. She said she simply forgot to change the banner at the same time.
“I was so busy with redesigning the poster and going around putting up the poster after a group of girls had taken the old ones down that the banner on the website was overlooked,” she said. “It was not done on purpose and at the moment the poster was an absolute priority for me.”
Launi admitted that her event was indeed a bit out of the norm, but defended it by pointing out that over 700 people from across the province were in attendance and many offered her positive comments.
“The event was the most attended of the year,’’ she said. “Students thanked us for creating the event and promised to come back to the next one.’’
She pointed out that all participants signed waiver forms. Furthermore, Launi received no negative feedback when she presented the idea at ASFA’s January council meeting. She confirmed that the event has still not received any backlash from councillors.
The student complaint that ultimately led to Launi changing the event’s posters earlier in the month came from Jessica Young, VP internal for the Concordia Association for Students in English. In her Feb. 6 email to Launi, Young stated that “I believe that the event as a whole is symptomatic of the deep and institutionally reinforced weaknesses that contradict ASFA’s policies.’’
Launi maintained that she never meant to hurt anyone, but indicated she herself felt hurt when she once witnessed girls ripping down the party’s poster, and hearing them say that that was the event “Jess’’ had talked about. But Young claimed that no orders came from her.
“I did not tell anyone to take down posters,’’ she told the Concordian. “But think that if students feel strongly enough to take down posters, it strongly suggests that ASFA needs to rethink its promotion strategies.’’
Young emphasized that she was not angry about the event, but rather “the way in which ASFA failed to think about what kind of culture events like this promote.’’
A further complaint came from recent McGill graduate Liam Olson-Mayes, who emailed Launi on Feb. 2 to express outrage at ASFA’s “deeply sexist event.’’ Olson-Mayes, who completed a degree in women’s studies and contemporary sexism, stated that the event’s sexist connotation was not diminished by the inclusion of man-on-man wrestling because “a man’s body can be on display without being reduced to a purely sexual object.’’
In a later email, he said ASFA’s event was “making life harder for those of us who are trying to both fight sexism and support people who have experienced sexual assault. Please stop.’’
Launi defended herself by saying that as a girl, she would never wish to create a sexist event. She continues to maintain that the event was simply organized to have fun. The party succeeded in raising $4,000 for the student projects it supported, and Launi indicated that events a bit out of the ordinary are good for Concordia.
“This is how you create a community at Concordia and get people excited to be part of the university,’’ she said. “If students from across the province came to this party and thanked us for having a great time this must mean we’re doing something right.’’