The University of New Brunswick has many traditions that have slowly petered out over the years, but there are others that have been systematically stamped out by university administration. One of those traditions? Chuck Cosby Day.
Now just who Chuck Cosby was is unclear. It could be that he was once a UNB student, or perhaps the name was created specifically for the event. Either way, Chuck Cosby Day was a long-held tradition at Bridges House from long before the residence became co-ed, back in a time before Residence Life when house Dons were in charge, and residences could have bars at socials and parties.
Chuck Cosby Day was a social, followed by an awards ceremony of sorts. It usually happened in April, at the end of second term. The social event was rumoured to involve drugs as well as alcohol, but was a party which residents looked forward to for the entire year. The awards ceremony presented the “Asshole of the Year Award” to whatever resident was voted (by secret committee) to be the biggest loser in Bridges. With 2021 perspective, it’s not difficult to recognize why the event was cancelled – but, in 1991, sentiments were different.
On April 11, 1991, news broke that Chuck Cosby Day was cancelled, and that no Asshole Award was to be bestowed. Students were unhappy, and according to an interview given by Steve Williams to then-Bruns News Editor Karen Burgess in April of 1991, cancelling Chuck Cosby was, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Tensions had been rising for several years as university administration cracked down on traditions that it perceived as unsavoury or damaging to the school’s reputation. Though it seems nearly unbelievable, the University of New Brunswick used to have more of a party-school reputation than St. Frances Xavier. It has only been in the last 30 or so years that UNB has recouped their reputation, and even then it was done with great difficulty. April 11, 1991 is a perfect example of why it was difficult to try to change the university’s culture overnight.
Residents were upset when they discovered that the administration was forbidding them from having Chuck Cosby Day. According to a Bruns’ article from April 12, students felt that “their way of expressing themselves through legitimate channels” wasn’t working. So there was a riot.
This is no exaggeration. Bridges residents were furious that their traditions were being stripped from them, and other students sympathized, since Bridges wasn’t the only residence where events were being scrutinized. Students began to gather in the quad and inside Bridges. Things escalated. Beds were broken apart and thrown into the quad out of the windows. The washrooms were destroyed; toilets were ripped out of the wall and thrown through windows into the quad. People were drinking heavily. There were hundreds of people running through the quad, destroying things.
By the end of the night on April 11, there were over 400 people in the quad, and the university was dealing with a full scale riot. According to a source who worked at UNB in 1991 and who wishes to remain anonymous, one estimate at the time put the cost of damages to Bridges House “in the five figures,” and a figure even more outrageous 30 years ago. Needless to say, the administration was not happy at all.
There was no record available to see how many students were disciplined by UNB, but the police were called to the riot, and reportedly there were one or two students who were arrested. The same week, several male students had to be disciplined over an anonymously published letter in Rolling Jones: UNB’s Rudest Official Residence Publication, discussing why women were useless and not as good as men. The riot was a shock to the university in a week where they were already having issues controlling what was going on behind the closed doors of residence. It was the first time there had been a full-scale riot on the campus grounds, and it dealt a blow to the school’s reputation that echoed a long way.
Newspapers from across the country covered the riot – from the Vancouver Sun to the Windsor Star, there were articles about the Chuck Cosby riot on newsstands all over Canada. The idea of an Asshole Award was repugnant to most, and the fact that students at UNB had rioted over its removal was strange to those who were not involved directly with campus affairs.
The Brunswickan’s article from the day after the riot is the only one that represents a student perspective. One of the students who witnessed the riot was interviewed, and noted that the Asshole of the Year Award worked as a deterrent for bad behaviour in Res, as nobody wanted to get the award. It’s obvious that students at the time were frustrated with the lack of consultation with the student body over what events were going to take place on campus. The loss of Chuck Cosby brings to mind the increased tightening and restriction of Harrison House’s Pumpkin Sacrifice, and the loss of traditions and events associated with O Week for fear of hazing accusations.
Chuck Cosby Day and the Asshole of the Year Award briefly came back into the limelight as Gabriel Wortman, perpetrator of the 2020 Nova Scotia Attacks, was listed in several online forums as a possible past recipient of the Asshole Award. There has been little information released to the public about Wortman, and there is no public, or Brunswickan, record of Asshole Award recipients. But the forums raised an interesting question – would being named Asshole of the Year have implications? Was getting the award a source of shame, or was it one of those inside joke awards that only those who’ve lived in a residence could understand? Was it right to cancel Chuck Cosby Day along with the Asshole Award?
Now, back in 1991, apparently UNB still had a minister who was for some reason involved in Residence Life. The day after the riot, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record reported that “Rev. Monte Peters, a campus minister, sent a letter to all Bridges House residents the day after the incident. In it, he wrote of ‘deep and painful sense of shame.’”
“‘My conversations with past victims of the Chuck Cosby process of intimidation and harassment had convinced me beyond any doubt that it was a mean and cruel form of psychological torture,’ he said in his letter.”
Quoted in an article in the Vancouver Sun on April 11, 1991, then-dean of residence Mary-Lou Stirling said that interviews “with past recipients of the award revealed it caused lasting psychological harm. Some suffered depression afterward; others wanted to quit UNB altogether.”
The Brunswickan was not able to find anyone who either admitted or was named as a recipient of the award other than Gabriel Wortman – so who knows how recipients of the Asshole Award feel 30 years later.
No one will ever know what would’ve happened if Chuck Cosby hadn’t been cancelled, but the riot in 1991 is certainly a major event in the history of the University of New Brunswick, and is certainly worth writing about in the year of its 30th anniversary.
If you happen to know who Chuck Cosby was, or have any more information about Chuck Cosby Day, the Asshole of the Year Award, or the 1991 riot, please email firstname.lastname@example.org – we’re dying to know. We’ll even buy you a beer.