Carleton Students Expected to Apologize Over 'F--- SAFE SPACE' T-shirts

OTTAWA - Carleton University students, including orientation week leaders, who were spotted in "offensive" shirts mocking the campus safe spaces policy at an off-campus party will make a "sincere public apology," the university's president said Monday.

Roseann O'Reilly Runte called the students' behaviour "extremely disappointing" to everyone at Carleton.

The tank top tempest that had other students rallying in protest, erupted after local lawyer Leslie Robertson tweeted pictures of students wearing shirts reading "F- SAFE SPACE" on the front and "OR ME" on the back.

The shirt-wearing students were reportedly spurred by a no-swearing edict, but Arun Smith, who helped organize the University Centre rally, called the shirts "odious and and awful," noting they were worn days after a student was charged with sexually assaulting three women on campus elevators.

"On the one hand, I was horrified and offended," said Smith, co-ordinator of the campus Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia Campaign. He now calls on students, orientation week organizers and officials to launch a public forum on making Carleton safer and more welcoming and inclusive.

"I can't help but not be surprised - this is an escalating series of events," he said. "At the same time, there are incidents of homophobia, transphobia. We have to take a stand." On Sunday, Robertson spotted at least a dozen men and women wearing the shirts in the Bronson and Sunnyside area as she left the nearby farmer's market with her family. As a lawyer tackling human rights cases, she thinks they make a clear sexual reference and trivialize hard work to protect students.

"It was pretty disturbing to see people who think that's funny," Robertson said. "The idea it was against the swearing policy - I don't buy it." While Brett Parnell, a Carleton University Students' Association councillor who was an orientation facilitator last week, called the shirts "clearly inappropriate," he argued that the safe spaces policy should be better drafted and explained.

Parnell said parts of the training made him feel uncomfortable - like the suggestion of asking students what gender pronoun they prefer, which Robertson endorsed - or were "just kind of silly," like being told not to high-five frosh.

"When students are talked to as regular adults with common sense instructions that we can all get behind, our policies will function as they were intended to," he said.

Carleton said the Safe Spaces initiative has been in place for a decade and thousands of students plus faculty and staff trained in what its website calls "an important initiative to reduce the impact of homophobia and heterosexism on campus." Upholding it is in the job description for facilitators.

Twitter: @ottawasun_megan

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