Most student newspapers put together an annual “frosh guide,” an informal introduction to university life, covering topics such as residence life, the freshman 15, independence and sex.This year, the University of Waterloo’s Imprint’s frosh supplement took an admittedly light-hearted attempt at educating its readers on some of their sexual options, using airline safety-card style cartoons.
The cartoons, which depicted fully clothed demonstrators, accompanied an article, entitled “Sex Secrets Revealed,” which was deemed inappropriate by university officials. The supplement, along with the rest of the paper, was removed from residences during moving days.
According to Mark Van Nierop, director of information and public affairs for the University of Waterloo, the frosh supplement was removed voluntarily by Imprint staff. He also said the supplement was removed only after the residence dons, who are students themselves, voted to request its removal.
“The dons were of the opinion that the material regarding the article was inappropriate,” said Nierop.
The supplement was removed only from residences, and was available throughout the rest of the school.
Ryan Merkley, editor-in-chief of The Imprint, doesn’t blame the dons for the removal of the newspaper. Instead he claims that UW’s director of student life, Leanne O’Donnell, and the school’s administration, decided to remove the newspaper, including the frosh supplement, from residences.
“Their main argument is that they don’t want parents to see the article entitled ‘Sex Secrets Revealed,’” said Merkley.
Patty Koebel, manager of Waterloo’s Village 1 residence, refused to comment, other than to say, “I had nothing to do with it.”
The Imprint have met with school officials and requested that the newspapers be returned to their racks in residences, a request that they say was turned down. The paper then decided to post signs reading “why are these racks empty.” Merkley says that the signs were subsequently torn down by administration staff. Nierop denied the claim, saying that anyone could have torn down the signs.
While the university does have guidelines for such situations, Nierop insisted that the decision to remove the supplement was ultimately made by the dons, based on their interpretation of what is acceptable.
“They [incoming students], as well as their parents, have a right to expect to be comfortable there,” said Nierop.
When asked what student reaction has been to the article, Merkley said that “students are picking up the issue in droves, they think it’s great.”
This is not the first time that The Imprint and university administration have clashed over issues of censorship. This year marked the first year that The Imprint was not included in the orientation kits received by first-year students. The paper decided not to appear in the kit, citing the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Orientation (PACO) as the reason. PACO is comprised of both administrators and students, who set out guidelines regarding what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and activities during orientation week.
In a commentary on The Imprint website, Merkeley said “last year, we met the orientation committee half-way by printing a separate pull-out section for the frosh kits, removing the questionable content.
“In retrospect, it was probably a mistake. What first-year students ended up getting was a white-washed version of their student newspaper, and a poor representation of our true, irreverent selves.”