The Walk of Shame: Where it Went Wrong

On April 23rd, many students in the UNE community found themselves invited to a Stro night, organised by the Combined Presidents Committee of the colleges. The theme: Walk of Shame. The Facebook Event, of which The Stro’s official account was among the administrators, invited students to “see what your hook up will look like the next morning before taking them home, instead of waking up, rolling over and having instant regret”. The event information encouraged costumes that included running make-up, “sex hair” and carrying high heels. The accompanying picture depicted a woman walking home “the morning after”, with captions pointing to, among other things her messy hair, her full purse because the man she slept with bought all the drinks and “the taste of random man semen” in her mouth.

According to Frithjof Herb, President of Mary White College, the event was intended as “a fun evening of socialization, and to help students embrace and as such debilitate a serious social issue.” Other students, however, did not see it that way.

Simon Paul, CEO of ServicesUNE (which owns the Stro) received a phone call from a “concerned student”. He says the student suggested that the Facebook Event was inappropriate and asked him to investigate it. After listening to the student’s complaint and looking at the Facebook page for himself, Mr. Paul says that he decided “it was not something I wanted to be on the Facebook Group”. He asked the Stro staff member managing the Stro’s Facebook profile to take the page down, which the staff member promptly did.

Frithjof Herb, speaking on behalf of the Combined President’s Committee (CPC), explained to Nucleus that his decision to cancel the event was not based on pressure from any higher authority. He made the decision to cancel, on the committee’s behalf, as soon as he became aware that the event was causing offence to other students. He has also chosen to issue an official apology, published in this edition of Nucleus.

While ServicesUNE only received one official complaint, outrage was by no means limited to one student. Milly Roberts, President of the UNE Women’s Society, says that many of the society’s members were deeply upset by the event’s theme. Among the complaints she heard were that the event was ‘sexist’, ‘degrading’ and ‘slut-shaming’, with many of her members expressing disappointment and anger. UNE student Ashleigh Baker told Nucleus “I’m by no means a strong feminist but I think this was incredibly degrading to both genders not just women - because it means that this is how the young men and women are happy to view each other at the institution.” Milly Roberts agrees.

“I think the picture and accompanying words weren’t just degrading to women, but to everyone in the university community. As students we come here to better ourselves and participate in intellectual life…” Roberts told Nucleus. “We can do better than that, and we should expect more from ourselves. There are so many good student groups who are doing their best to contribute back to the community and create an exciting environment of diverse ideas and engagement at the university. This sort of playing to lowest common denominator is cheap, and we can certainly do better as a group.”

Roberts was particularly disappointed to find the event scheduled for Blues Stockings Week, an event intended to celebrate women’s participation in intellectual life and higher education. She described the two events being scheduled the same week as “particularly unfortunate”.

But how was such an offensive event allowed to be organised in the first place? According to Simon Paul, the Stro staff were not aware of the proposed theme before advertising for the event began. While the CPC had been given permission to host a ‘Stro night, they had not specified the theme. Mr. Paul says that in the future, “we would like to communicate with groups that want a theme night, before promotional material is distributed”. He states that processes have been put in place to ensure this occurs from now on. He also described the steps he has taken to control what is posted to the Stro’s facebook page. These include the page being monitored by a non-Stro staff member, as the nature of employment of Stro staff makes it difficult for them to constantly monitor social media.

Nucleus asked Frithjof Herb whether he thought the ‘“Walk of Shame’” theme was appropriate.

“Was it appropriate? In light of what has happened, no it wasn’t. Though we should have worded and presented it differently so it wasn’t as easy to misinterpret. At the time I certainly thought it was appropriate otherwise I wouldn’t have given it the go ahead, and here’s why. We live in a world filled with bigoted hate, where people use simple normal things to shame people. Rather than give them that power, would it not make more sense to embrace and ridicule their very argument, for the silly hateful thing it is? It’s proven to work in the past, look at how well the international SlutWalk campaign worked.”

Apparently, the subversive intention behind the event was not the message received by many students. According to Milly Roberts, this depiction of women in a sexual manner contributes to a culture of sexual harassment and assault within our community, including on university campuses.

“I have heard too many stories of sex based harassment occurring on campus and at the colleges… The recent ‘Talk About It’ survey revealed a shocking number of female uni students have had an unwanted sexual experience. The whole culture needs a shakeup, and universities should be leading the way.”

Roberts says that the number of accounts of sexual assault and harassment she has heard from female UNE students is “disturbing”. However, Simon Paul does not share her concerns. He says he has heard nothing of the rumours of harassment and assault and that it is his understanding that “the university actually has in place some good policies in relation to sexual harassment”.

Certainly, ServicesUNE’s reaction to the ‘Walk of Shame’ facebook incident was prompt. It seems that Simon Paul was as outraged and offended by the proposed event as some of the students. When asked why some people found the event offensive, he responded with passion:

“I think the answer to that’s obvious. I think anybody in their right mind would think that was inappropriate - no matter what part of society you are in.”

- Kate Wood

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I would like to express my feelings of regret towards the offense experienced by some individuals; this stemming from the CPC party that was to take place on the 1st of May. The theme was “Walk of Shame”.

This theme was not meant as a personal attack on any gender. It most certainly wasn’t an act of “slut shaming”. It was intended as a celebration of the arguably less glamorous side of human sexuality, as experienced by a large portion of the universities population. I truly find it regretful that some people took offense to the theme and I would like to extend my sympathies to those whom had a negative experience due to the event’s creation.

Please understand that the theme was chosen for multiple reasons, and always with equality and inclusion in mind. The theme was a humorous take on phenomena that a lot of sexually active people will have experienced. It is something that people of any gender and any sexual orientation can relate to. It was a theme that would have allowed people to dress as themselves, while still fitting to a theme.

The reason for why the anatomy of a heterosexual female’s morning after was used as an example is simple. It is because in general there are many more obvious items to a women’s apparel, such as makeup which looks notably different the morning after a night out. It will also have been something that more people could relate to as the majority of the university’s student population is heterosexual females. I wish to apologies to those who felt females where being targeted negatively.

It’s regretful that the personal context of the offended resulted in such a negative reaction. I hope that those offended understand the intent behind the event, in which we were simply trying to help people embrace who they are without shame or judgment. I do understand the nature and the reasons behind the offense some took, and personally do not have any regrets about cancelling the event, nor do I bear ill will. I feel the cancellation was appropriate as even though the intent behind the event was well meaning and in a kind spirit, the feelings of a few are too important to be overlooked. I hope in the future we can still provide an event with a similar goal, though with a theme less offensive to some.

Regards

Frithjof Herb President of Mary White College Junior Commonroom Committee

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