InstitutionalOpinion

LHSA was wrongfully disbanded

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.

26 Comments

  1. It was the 2011-2012 team that I had issues with, I actually found Mac Hall Council in 2010-11 was quite welcoming however the following year when I had to work with them but wasn’t a part of their group that I found there to be issues, though it might have just been the res services / lhsa divide that caused problems. I do agree they did many great things and students are missing out without them in some sort of way, I do think that a revamp was needed, there were faults with the current model and while they prided themselves on being inclusive of everyone, I felt that if I didn’t fit into the drinking and partying atmosphere, then I was frowned down upon.

  2. Not a point of discussion, but an addition. I would like to confirm that the specific incident that got Skulk cancelled was indeed approved by a Res Services staff member in a verbal agreement during a meeting. Irresponsibly enough, I never got it in writing, which I think is what enabled the university to take action. Bringing up that they should also have been held accountable is a really good point, but I think it’s too big of a can a worms for the university to want to open.

  3. As the one person who actually got the title of having killed Skulk, I can definitely confirm the social stigma. I lost a looooot of friends, over a stupid tower event. At a party one year after the fiasco, one of my old best friends told me that he wanted to talk to me, but being seen talking to me in public would make him look bad. In his own words, “It’d be like if I was seen talking to a hooker.” Nice.

    Honestly, the students who were interviewed (mostly LHSA staff themselves) were encouraged by each other to tell as little as possible in the interviews. This happened the year before I took over the role of VP, and if everyone would have been genuine and honest during the investigation, I think it would have saved a lot of people from a lot of grief when shit hit the fan the next year.

  4. Some people will agree and some people won’t with that you wrote on there. I do think the incident that was discussed was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I think the University has some legitimate claims about what happened during tower events. Before I give my take, I think it’s important to note that I lived in Lister for a very, very long time. I loved my time in Lister and still go back for some of their events and for dodgeball (as we all know, dodgeball is everything to everyone). So, there is some obvious bias in my comments to follow.

    I don’t think a student group in 2015 can be held accountable for actions taken in 2005. The people are long gone and a group like the LHSA evolves over that period, especially when you consider that the average Listerite is in the residence for 2-3 years.

    In terms of events that we were more recent (including the aforementioned syrup chug), these events were actually approved by Residence Services. It seems to me like this is more of an entrapment situation then anything else. To put it more simply, the LHSA takes a proposal to Residence Services. Residence Services either approves, denies, or gives approval pending some changes to the proposal. Once the requested changes are made if required (and assuming the proposal isn’t shut down to begin with), Residence Services tells the LHSA to proceed with the proposal (usually an event). The LHSA runs the event, and then months or years later, the LHSA is told that what they are doing is hazing. So, essentially, if the University describes what the LHSA has done as hazing, they really only have themselves (aka Residence Services) to look to and punish. I don’t see anyone holding Residence Services accountable. Maybe that’s because the people have changed since them. Hypocritical much?

    Did the LHSA need to go through some changes? Absolutely, no question about it.
    Was there something wrong with the way FCs were selected? Probably.
    Do residents need to have someone represent them? Stupid question. Definitely. And unfortunately, those people can’t be people that work for Residence Services. There exists an inherent conflict of interest there because of the employee-employer relationship. Even if the LHSA wasn’t doing the best possible job at representing students (and by no means do I think that the LHSA was doing a poor job), they were the only people who could represent and advocate for the students.

    The LHSA and Residence Services/the University have not had a healthy relationship over the last 8-10 years; but, this most certainly wasn’t the best way to deal with it.

    Overall, an interesting read.

    As an aside, I don’t think the comment section is the best way to have a debate on this issue. Feel free to reply but there’s no real point in engaging in a constructive discussion through comments.

  5. Representation does not necessarily come in form of advocacy, but it might also come in the form of an event organizer committee. If residents want to have a student group even if it’s only going to organize one event in the whole year, they have the right to get organized.
    Also, yes, RS and the University (and other student groups, and this and that) organize lots of events, and that does not matter. What matters is that residents have the right to form a group even if it’s meant to organize that one extra event in the year.
    I’m also glad that you enjoy low/no-budget events, and I’m sure many other residents do too. But that one event in the year may require a budget, or other resources facilitated to registered student groups.
    Bottom line is: I understand that the LHSA is not necessary–yes, residents can live without it–, but that’s not the point. A student group working for residents MIGHT be something good and residents have the right to organize one. The right of MANY students should not be taken away for the irresponsible acts of a few executives.

  6. TBH some of the most memorable events were the ones that were put on without a budget. Re: floormals and other interest-specific events. Resident Services and the university itself host enough large events that there isn’t really a need for anything else.

    I already pointed out, there really wasn’t representation that came from the LHSA. Maybe a future organization could do a better job of it, which I fully support.

  7. Why not host one yourself? Because with an official student group you get access to grants for events, access to discounted venues, a potentially bigger audience, and other resources. If one person could just make up for what the LHSA did, no one would be making a big deal out its disbandment. It’s not as simple as that.
    I never lived in Lister. I had some of the “Lister experience” as an outsider and I didn’t like it. It was just not my thing and I disapproved of many aspects of that culture. Still, I do believe that it is unfair that the University leaves a huge group of students without representation without them willingly renouncing to that right. Irresponsible executives should be held accountable and sanctioned according to the Code of Student Behaviour. But it is unfair that the University takes away the right of students to organize themselves because of the actions of a few executives (in different years, decades, or whatever–they’re still a minority with respect to the whole of Lister).

  8. It doesn’t matter whether someone “consents” to participating in an activity like a syrup chug or not, it’s still hazing because it produces physical and mental discomfort as well as humiliation. Defining a syrup chug as the “spirit of the competition” obfuscates that fact that the activity was designed to be harmful to students. You can read what the University defines as hazing here: http://www.osja.ualberta.ca/Hazing/WhatIsHazing.aspx

  9. As someone who was directly involved with the “straw that broke the camel’s back” incident, I think I have some pretty valid input. And honestly, I’m more on the university’s side.

    To be fair, there had definitely been investigations still being assessed by the university regarding hazing dating back as early as 2005 when the Skulk incident occurred. Putting all of the blame onto one person was even regarded by the university as using a scapegoat. The residents only got the view of the Exec trying to cover their asses, and were understandably led to believe that it was a single incident caused by a “rogue” staff member.

    That said, there was nothing that was done outside of what was considered tradition. Although the incident itself was a poorly thought-through mistake, it was by no means something that was unique to that year’s Skulk. (If anything, it was toned down from previous years.)

    There really is no use for the LHSA, other than for hosting social events. Which is cool and all, but there was definitely no advocacy coming from their end. After Res Services and the LHSA were officially split, the LHSA was basically powerless when it came to dealing with rules. Instead, they convinced the students that Res Services was the source of all their unhappiness, so students saw the LHSA as a shining beacon of light. It really wasn’t. Most of the LHSA staff didn’t even know anybody in the Students Union. If you had any issues, you were sent back to an RA to actually get your problems as a resident solved. So if you really want to have some residence specific activities and events while the LHSA is out of commission, why not host one yourself?

    But what do I know? I’m just a rogue VP.

  10. I guess Res Services failed to interview me during their investigations then. Not that I agree with what Indira’s vision for Lister was. It’s no doubt that the tower events caused Res Services to scrutinize the LHSA. Do you honestly expect students say they were hazed and expect no fallout from their friends? They were intimidated, given the hype returning residents did regarding Skulk do you think any resident would say they were hazed and be labelled as ‘the one who killed Skulk’?

  11. Yes I remember. It was a big spark in what started the whole investigation. Res services interviewed our council and several students, asking if they felt hazed or bullied, and not surprisingly not a single person said yes. The way you joke about it in your comment shows the spirit of the competition vs the pressure to harm yourself as the student code claims the LHSA was guilty of.
    Was it gross? Sure
    Was it over the top? Maybe
    Was it hazing? Admittedly not.
    Bottom line: the UofA and res services had its own agenda for Lister, and there’s really nothing we could do to eventually stop this “investigation” from happening.

  12. I believe that this sort of things constitute a serious flaw in the policies governing student groups on campus. The University should NEVER have the ability to dissolve an organization or stop them from functioning for a number of years, as it goes against the right of students to get organized. However, the University should and must enforce the Code of Student Behaviour on executives that agree or participate in wrongful activities. The worst case scenario should be that the University mandates a full by-election for that student group, and that would be debatable as well.
    This type of rulings makes ANY group vulnerable to the arbitrary actions of an executive. This is extreme, but it even exposes well-meaning student groups to be the target of individuals that don’t care about their own situations and would enjoy dissolving a group where they are an executive. Yes, that would be extreme, yet entirely possible given this precedent.
    On a possibly related issue, I have enough experience with the Code of Students Behaviour being enforced in a VERY biased manner in favour of Residence Services, UAP or other University-associated institutions. The appeal process is extremely complicated for students yet those enforcing the Code are paid to prepare for those, which discourages people from appealing. I once won a ten-month-long appeal, and no one even apologized for everything they wrongfully made me go through. Although I’m glad that at least I won the appeal, I know of many cases where students don’t even consider going through the appeal process (lack of confidence in the system, tight deadlines, lack of time to prepare for it when you’re in the middle of midterms or finals, etc.). Although, technically in paper it’s a fair system (the Appeals Board is likely very imparcial), it still discourages students from pursuing an appeal.

  13. LHSA had potential to be great, the Exec for the past couple of years were awesome. But lower down in the organization things start getting bad. FCs, were the result of a complete popularity contest, if you drank at Dukes a lot you get to be FC. Some of these people were far from qualified to do their jobs, a lot of them used uninclusive language (words like retard or faggot). But there were the members of the LHSA who cared about making the Lister experience fun for the residents instead of pushing age old traditions that need to die out.

  14. LHSA had potential to be great, the Exec for the past couple of years were awesome. But lower down in the organization things start getting bad. FCs, were the result of a complete popularity contest, you drank a Dukes a lot and showed everyone your tits (coughmaggieschmidtcough) and you get to be FC or even hall VP. Some of these people were far from qualified to do their jobs, a lot of them used uninclusive language (words like retard or faggot). But there were the members of the LHSA who cared about making the Lister experience fun for the residents instead of pushing age old traditions that need to die out.

  15. Skulk 2011, when you were an FC, do you remember FCs feeding residents 750mL bottles of maple syrup? The syrup was no-name brand, I remember it because my puke smelled great (it actually did).

  16. I was a 2010/2011 5 Mackenzie FC and although I can’t relate to you feeling unwelcome by other FC’s (and am truly sorry if I ever did) I can say that a lot of the Lister events you enjoyed were actually organised and run by the LHSA. Ivanhoe for example I helped organise and run that year. I am very disappointed to have seen the LHSA’s decline over my 5 years in Lister (2008-2013) where I spent 3 years on 5 Mac and 2 years on 7 Schaffer. I can honestly say Lister students overall are impacted negatively by its departure.

  17. While I agree I think it was a little extreme, I am not sad that the LHSA must under go a complete makeover and can’t exist as it once did. I lived in Lister for two years 2010-2012, and the LHSA employees were probably the people who made me feel the least welcome. When I had to do training with them my summer going into my second year I hung out more with all the other residence staff over the LHSA hall councils because they were exclusive and the few times I did spend time with them they were shooting down and poking fun at others. And electing FCs was essentially a popularity contest, not who would actually do the job the best. Lister was one of the best experiences in my university career. Winning the spirit award for Ivanhoe even when we came dead last, having the other floors all cheer us on, playing dodgeball past what our bodies’ could handle, study parties, and so much more. However nearly all of my negative experiences were due to the LHSA, the popularity contest they were and the power they wielded.

  18. Sorry matt. I’ll admit that was an exageration but I still felt pressured during the event. Even when we switched, there was pressure to not let your team down so I still felt pressured. it was still disgusting. I take back what I said.

  19. I agree with much of what you said in regards to the university being ready to pounce on any incident that could be called hazing and that students in Lister should be free to do what they please. I also agree that lister does have a unique culture that sets it apart, and often above, from other university resident experiences.

    That being said the issue is that the LHSA as student body had the obligation and responsibility to stand above the darker (and to some, more fun) side of lister culture and ensure it is a safe space for every listerite. As this is an opinion article, I understand why it would be beneficial to cookie cut what appears to be a minor infraction of the code of student behavior, but if you acknowledge the section above your quote it states:

    30.3.4(7) a No Student shall organize, participate or engage in the hazing of another
    person, regardless of whether the individual who is the subject of the hazing
    has consented to participate in or be subjected to the activities in question, or
    whether the activities in question constitute a ritual or tradition of an
    organization.

    I don’t believe the LHSA intentionally hazed anyone and yes you are correct that any students that were uncomfortable could have left but the issue is that the LHSA should not have allowed (or had its executive participate in) the creation of an uncomfortable environment that would make students want to leave.

    Was the punishment extreme? probably, but the university is responsible and liable for everything that happens in lister. I loved King Louis and loved the lister environment for much of what it was but I understand why the university made their decision and I don’t think I’d go as far to say they were “wrongfully disbanded”. I share in the hopes of your concluding paragraphs for listers future with a changed LHSA or different organization.

  20. If this incident really did occur, it certainly didn’t occur during an LHSA sanctioned event, and you really only have your poor choice in friends to blame. If it’s the food eating competition during skulk 2010 your referring to, I was also present during this and the worst part of that was eating fully cooked spaghetti with a bunch of weird spices added to it. That or the syrup chug. Regardless, if this is the case you need to redefine what you would call “another person’s vomit” and stop making it seem worse than it was. Being pressured to do so is another lie. Anyone was free to pass or even switch to another team member during the event if they felt uncomfortable, and that was made clear during every event.

  21. I should mention that that incident was a long time ago (like 2010) and everyone basically refused the task. I haven’t been back to lister since I graduated but I imagine there have been other tasks since then that helped RS make there decision. Regardless, I doubt it was over a single inappropriate dance.

  22. You are dense if you think this was all over a single dance. I was present during one of the “hazing accusations” that involved people being pressured into basically eating another persons vomit. I was extremely uncomfortable, and though there was a small group of us present, it was obvious that someone in the room complained. It wasn’t over a dance, it was an accumulation of things over time. If the LHSA didn’t take RS seriously enough that’s their problem. RS gave them a warning, and although I agree it’s extremely sad that residents won’t experience the same lister, the disbandment wasn’t unwarranted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles