O-Week sponsorship irks Western groups

During Orientation Week, the University Students’ Council is the boss. By renting out Western’s campus, they have control over the week’s events. This gives them the ability to decide who gets to promote to frosh and who does not. In recent years, only those who pay sponsorship dues have been allowed to promote themselves during the week, leaving some student groups frustrated.

This year Rogers and the Athletic Club are shelling out big bucks — between $3,000 and $6,000 each — to be a visible part of Western’s O-Week.

The Mustang cheerleaders are one group who are not allowed to recruit frosh during the weeklong event.

“Countless times I’ve heard the USC tell me, ‘You can’t promote [the cheerleaders] like that’,” coach David-Lee Tracey said. “The cheerleaders promote Western spirit. Since when is promoting a bad thing when it’s for Western?”

The USC countered by saying clubs and sports teams including the Mustang cheerleaders and marching band are welcome on campus during O-Week as long as they don’t try to promote themselves. In other words, no recruiting.

“We’re willing to acknowledge that we want them there, we want that Western spirit,” said Mark Wellington, manager of the USC’s Student Life department.

Sponsors are allowed to promote more than Western groups because it’s difficult to offer fairness, according to Justin Mackie, vice-president of student events for the USC.

“We want to make sure that there is equity amongst all of our groups and it would be near impossible to facilitate all campus groups during the week since there are over 200 of them,” he pointed out.

Another reason why sponsors are the only ones allowed to promote during O-Week is to control messages sent to frosh, according to Wellington.

“Many years ago Orientation Week was full of hazing, sexism and homophobic comments. As people became more aware of this the University and the USC decided to take action,” Wellington recalled. “We’ve worked with the USC to get it down, it’s taken almost two decades to get where we are now, providing a consistently welcoming and friendly environment for first years.”

The USC pointed out O-Week staff and sophs are trained to encourage this welcoming message and that all sponsors are reviewed by an advertisement oversight committee to ensure they are appropriate and contained.

But Tracey argued frosh are not as impressionable as the USC believes and the sponsorship system strips frosh of a genuine Western experience.

“Whether it be a protective policy or a sponsors-only thing, it’s as though we aren’t allowed to truly be Western during O-Week,” Tracey commented.

Student groups can still have access to O-Week through advertising, Wellington said. Some groups have purchased small inserts into the O-Week kit in the past.

While the majority of clubs and Western groups don’t make use of this option, Wellington concluded sponsorships — and the rules that come with them — are necessary to provide the kind of O-Week students want and expect.

“In the majority of years, sponsorship has provided the revenues necessary to fund 20 to 40 per cent of O-Week’s programming,” he said. “Without it, it is likely that one or more of the major evening events would be cut.”

This year the USC is introducing Purple Week immediately after O-Week, an initiative kick-starting the promotion of USC groups, projects and operations. The week is quickly followed by Clubs Week, which allows campus clubs to promote themselves in the University Community Centre atrium.