Iron Ring ceremony briefing ‘sexist’ and ‘unprofessional,’ say UBC engineers

Despite past criticisms, a recent briefing event for this year’s Iron Ring ceremony is again facing backlash from the UBC engineering community.

The Iron Ring ceremony, officially titled the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, celebrates graduating engineers’ transition from students to professionals. It’s organized at UBC by Camp 5, a subsidiary of The Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc, which administers the ceremonies nationally.

In recent years, the ritual has been criticized for including offensive, sexist humour, and a briefing event for the upcoming 2020 Iron Ring ceremony has stirred up concerns about its content.

Juliana Lee, a graduating mechanical engineering student, was “shocked” to hear a series of “sexist” remarks unfold at the event.

“The most blatant one was the one where they talked about replacing a ring for a shiny ring, because [they implied that] young women like shiny jewellery,” Lee said.

“There was an inaudible shock … it was baffling.”

The organizers also shared a story about a woman wearing an iron ring and “somebody asked her if her boyfriend was an engineer.” According to Lee, the punchline was “No, but my boyfriend has a girlfriend who’s an engineer.”

Lee felt the tone of the narrative made it sound “sexist” and “uncalled for,” but she quickly realized the remarks weren’t deemed unusual by only her.

“I needed confirmation in the moment that I wasn't overreacting or thinking about these things in a negative way … but the remarks were equally shocking for my guy friends.”

This isn’t the first time the ceremony has faced criticism.

Veronica Knott, former president of the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS), was quick to tweet about the incident, questioning why it was hard to go “thirty minutes without insulting people.”

UBC Board of Governors (BoG) member Jeanie Malone also chimed in, highlighting previous instances of “inappropriate” remarks at Camp 5 events.

Katherine Westerlund, the interim president of the EUS, said graduates regularly express their concerns with the ceremony.

“In my experience, people are not satisfied with this camp, not satisfied with their words and actions and not satisfied with the concept of needing to experience a private ceremony full of crude, outdated jokes at their expense in order to obtain their iron rings,” she said.

“[Some] professional engineers haven’t worn their rings in 5, 10, 15 years because of their experiences at this ceremony,” Westerlund said.

Lee said when students stood up to question the organizers over the content of the event, the students were told “not to come, because [the ceremony] is optional.”

“It’s so astounding that their response to their valid criticisms was ‘You don’t have to come’ instead of ‘Okay, we’ll take these into consideration or we’ll change,’” Lee continued.

“Saying you don't have to come is essentially saying you’re not welcome to enter into the industry.”

Westerlund added that even though one doesn’t require an iron ring to register as an engineer-in-training or a professional engineer with Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia (EGBC), the iron ring is synonymous with being an engineer in Canada.

“It's a physically identifiable object you wear on your body to remind you and the people around you of the oath you take and the duty engineers have to society,” she said.

“We no longer accept these excuses [of the ceremony being ‘optional’], and instead choose to listen to the members of our community who are speaking up against these instances of sexism and unprofessionalism,” Westerlund said.

Working towards a solution

Last year, the EUS released a statement on their concerns with last year’s ceremony. After other stakeholders also voiced criticisms, Camp 5 assured them that they seek to be “inclusive and welcoming” to the iron ring recipients.

Yet things didn’t change.

“For far too long we have been waiting, negotiating, for the right to celebrate the achievement of finishing an engineering degree and transitioning into professional practice without fear of discrimination from the very body who holds the rings which are supposed to welcome us into this profession,” Westerlund wrote in an open letter.

As they work towards a solution, the EUS is asking students to share their experiences with Camp 5 through an online survey. Westerlund said the negotiations so far have been difficult.

“We have been discussing potential paths forward with [Camp 5], along with the reforms and accountability mechanisms we would like to see put into writing, and should hopefully have a path forward by the end of the week,” she said.

Camp 5 didn’t respond to The Ubyssey’s request for comment by the press time.

James Olson, the dean of the faculty of applied science, wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey that they take concerns around the content of Iron Ring ceremony very seriously.

“Since hearing the concerns of our graduating students in recent days we have begun working with the Engineering Undergraduate Society, with EGBC, and the engineering profession to ensure that the ceremony be an inclusive and respectful celebration of the ethics of the engineering profession,” Olson wrote.

“The Faculty wants to be clear — there is no place in engineering for discrimination of any kind and the suggestion that our graduates are subjected to demeaning and derogatory commentary is not acceptable.”