Singing for sex?

By Luke Cadden

Initiations and orientations can be a memorable experience for some, while a nightmare for others. Rhodes encourages a friendly, non-discriminatory orientation for first-years in the form of serenades. Last year, serenades reached a new level of participation and evolved into the highly successful “RU Jamming” event which is set to become an annual tradition. However, the recent controversy surrounding an anonymous letter that was sent to the office of the Dr Vivian de Klerk, the Dean of Students, has sparked a debate about the nature of these ‘sexy’ serenades. The first-year writer expressed how “uncomfortable” she was at having to perform in front of male residences, and how the early morning wake-up calls negatively impacted her first week of learning. Students with similar stories have come forward, expressing their concerns about the way in which this early-morning initiation rite is conducted – they raised questions, for example, surrounding the heteronormative nature of the serenades. Regardless of one’s upbringing, it can be agreed that the theme of the serenades has always followed a flirtatious format and often involves sexual innuendos – some more overt than others. Couldn’t it be argued that we see similar if not worse things in television and music? Activate sought the views of students on campus on the first-hand experience of serenades.
Kelsey Stewart, BA 2
I think that if conducted appropriately and properly supervised by the house committee, the serenades can be a wonderful way to meet new people. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience last year.
Rumbidzai Mzilah , BA 1
I was on a bus for 48 hours and I got here on a Sunday and the first thing I had to do was serenade practice. I didn’t have time to shower, unpack and was being repeatedly told to practise. That was OK for while but by the next morning they were forcing people to wake up. I was so tired that I slept through one and my sub-warden gave me hell for it. She told me that being tired was not a good enough reason to miss serenades. I spoke to my warden, though, and she said that serenades were not compulsory. I thought you weren’t supposed to do things you didn’t want to do! I feel like serenades is one of those things that you don’t have to do if you don’t want to.
Zama Quma, BSS 3
I think [serenades] are important, not only to help you meet other people but to present you with the opportunity to make friends. They break that awkwardness which always exists when people aren’t familiar with one another. So, they are a stepping stone to making mates.
Gerhardus de Lange, BA 2
My serenades experience is a mash-up of positive and negative experiences. Firstly, I think that the idea of serenades is a good one because it builds character and it also creates new friendships and fosters a sense of unity. The bad thing about serenades, especially in male residences, is the overwhelming amount of sexual connotations that I sometimes felt ashamed to utter… But it opened a new world to me for which I am grateful for.
Kenneth Mlambo, BJourn 1
Some people say the serenades were not fun because they had to wake up early. Some of us were used to the holidays, where we would wake up at 10h00… The idea of serenades was good because you got to meet the girls, so when you see them you can say, ‘Hey you, I met you at serenades’. So basically, we can build relationships.
Zandile Ramalohlanye, LLB Masters
Serenades are the introduction to a new chapter in a student’s life. They break the ice; put you in a different space and a different mind-set. In my residence, we tried to encourage students to participate as much as possible. From what I saw they enjoyed it. It’s a memory that some feel they will treasure about O-Week. I feel it’s a great way to get the students acquainted with the environment and most importantly with their fellow resmates. I personally enjoyed serenades in my first year and secretly wished we could have them in the years that followed.
Thendo Makhuvha, BSC 3
It was a positive experience because as a first-year, it is a way of meeting new people around campus and meeting other first-years as well, getting you to settle in and to be comfortable on campus. You might meet someone who you will be in the same class with. Some guys, however, take it too far but generally from my view – there was not any form of sexual harassment. The songs we were singing were fine; the attire we were wearing was fine. I don’t understand where this whole stigma of serenades being a form of sexual harassment comes from. I think it is ridiculous to be honest and I see it as a form of attack on tradition. It has been working for years now.
Abram Rankapole, BCom 4
I think serenades are positive; they give first-years a great exposure to varsity life. They are given the opportunity to meet people, prior to lecture attendance. So by the time they get to lectures they already know who they can be friends with or who they want to sit with. Some might even meet their potential girlfriends through serenades. So serenades overall have positive influence as it makes new students feel welcome. It sort of bridges that gap between high school and varsity.