In January 2014, allegations against the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA) were made regarding an incident of perceived hazing during Skulk, the annual Henday Tower event. As a result, the individuals blamed for the incident were fired from the LHSA and removed from Lister, and the LHSA itself, after a long appeal process, ceased to be — at least until 2017.
The LHSA was an elected student body that represented Lister residents to the university. It had, in previous years, been held responsible for a number of serious hazing incidents and the university had ruled that the LHSA was on its last strike; that one more hazing allegation would result in the disbanding of the organization for two years. The final nail in the coffin came during Skulk 2014.
I witnessed the specific incident that triggered the hazing allegations, which was a dance performed at the Skulk opening ceremonies by members of the LHSA executive. It contained a good deal of what some would call inappropriate content. The LHSA had been warned against performing the dance after it was shown the previous summer. Given this, there’s no doubt that it was a mistake to perform the dance, and I would fully expect the university to follow with some sort of consequences. But the vicious punishments that were dished out were analogous to a life sentence for marijuana possession.
As this will leave Lister residents without representation for at least the next two years, it is an unacceptable violation of the rights of students to form representative bodies, outlined in the provincial Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). In addition, since the accusations of hazing were so exaggerated, the subsequent consequences were overly punitive and out of line.
“Hazing” has no universal definition, and every university is free to create and adhere to its own regulations on the subject. The U of A’s definition of hazing is found in section 30.3.4(7) of the Code of Student Behaviour. The definition is divided into four categories. The second category is the only pertinent section, and just barely; it covers “physical or mental discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, harassment, (and) ridicule.”
It’s not clear who the allegations came from, whether a student or member of Residence Services. Regardless, calling the incident hazing is problematic because every audience member in the room had the option of leaving if the dance made them feel uncomfortable. Nobody was forced to have anything whatsoever to do with Skulk or any part thereof, and because of that simple fact, nothing inappropriate that may or may not have happened during Skulk could logically have been called hazing; hazing is precluded from applying to the situation by its very definition, which is dependent on the act of coercion.
As a result of the university’s trigger-happiness, new Lister Centre residents — 1,400 of them per year — no longer have any representation within the Students’ Union. Many situations and conflicts within Lister now go partially unresolved, as the Residence Assistants on each floor can only enforce rules; they can’t truly mediate between students as effectively as an LHSA Floor Coordinator. The LHSA also provided more than representation; virtually all the events offered to Lister residents were organized and made possible through the LHSA.
As it stands, the subject of the LHSA is essentially taboo in Lister. Upper-year students hired as Floor Coordinators during the summer — now ordinary residents — are forbidden to speak in support of the former organization; if they dare to do so, they risk serious punishment. Current-day Lister seems a lot more like a dictatorship than your average university residence. Without a doubt, at least, it’s a hell of a lot less interesting.
Unfortunately, that seems to have been precisely the university’s goal.
Over the decades, Lister has developed a unique culture of its own, and a part of that culture is drinking and debauchery. As juvenile as that may sound, Lister residents are almost entirely legal adults, and as long as the Code of Student Behaviour and all federal, provincial and municipal laws are followed, residents should be able to do as they wish. As I argue above, the Code was never violated, and the law was certainly never broken.
But because the LHSA was already on thin ice, the university was on the lookout for incidents that could be called hazing. And at the first sign that all was not well in Lister, the university pounced — disregarding its own definition of hazing in the process, and leaving at least 2800 students over the next two years without representation. Given the university’s goal of increasing student residency and the lengthy process of reinstating an organization with an entirely new set of executive and support staff, the lack of representation is likely to impact closer to 4,500 students over three years.
To compensate for the lack of Lister representation, the SU is in the process of developing a replacement organization for the LHSA. According to Student Council on Oct. 27, the Office of the Dean of Students is against the idea, and insists that the SU doesn’t have the right to implement another student association in place of one that was shut down for breaking the Code of Student Behaviour. The SU maintains that they don’t need the university’s approval to do so, citing the PSLA.
The former LHSA was not, admittedly, without its faults. Its executive was not always professional, and Lister culture had become so much an entity of its own that Lister became separate from the rest of the university; the Lister experience was not the U of A experience.
As much as I hate to see the LHSA go, perhaps a new organization and a fresh set of executives will be able to succeed in areas where the LHSA was lacking, while fulfilling the important representative function of the LHSA.