Viewport width =
May 26, 2008 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Cosgrove’s penis embarrasses students, university – A big reaction to a small act

Despite his assertions that he had been promoting a serious issue, Victoria University Students’ Association (VUWSA) President Joel Cosgrove has become the target of widespread criticism from University staff and students following his decision to don an “I (heart) my penis” T-shirt to a recent graduation ceremony.

Cosgrove, who was seated in the front row onstage alongside the University’s academic staff and management, wore the T-shirt proclaiming his love for his genitals during the afternoon ceremony for graduates of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences on 16 May.


The T-shirt was part of a campaign jointly run by student representatives from Victoria and Massey (Wellington) universities, designed to encourage male students to get regular sexual health check-ups.

Cosgrove was passed two notes during the ceremony written by staff managing the ceremony, requesting that he button his gown to cover up his T-shirt – the slogan on which was visible to many in the audience. Cosgrove’s gown, however, remained open throughout the two-hour ceremony.

A recent blog post on the Salient website about Cosgrove’s attire at the ceremony attracted a wide range of comments. Some were amused by the T-shirt, while others described it as “offensive” and “insulting” to the graduates and their families in attendance.

“I agree with the cause, disagree with the occasion,” graduate Laura McQuillan wrote. Others were harsher in expressing their opinions: “Memories will be marred by images of you being an immature prat. Fuck you, you cunt. I voted for you and you let me down.”

“I don’t love Joel’s penis,” another declared.

Cosgrove disputed the suggestion that the T-shirt had been an inappropriate choice for the occasion. “If I was playing silly buggers, yeah [it would have been inappropriate],” he said. “But it raised awareness about a serious issue.”

He added that he had not received any negative responses since the ceremony, a claim disputed by VUWSA Campaigns Officer Sonny Thomas.

“He’s lying,” Thomas said. “He’s gotten lots of negative feedback.”

When Salient pointed out that a number of comments posted in response to blog post were critical of his choice to wear the T-shirt, Cosgrove asserted that he did not make his decisions based on the magazine’s website.

“For all I know, it’s just Conrad [Salient political writer] posting under pseudonyms.”

Conrad denies the allegation. “Such a statement is patently ridiculous, and just shows Joel’s desperation” he said.

“I don’t regret it,” said Joel. “Hundreds of people asked what it meant. One guy came up to me and said I had balls. It brought the issue [of male sexual health check-ups] into discussion.”

Cosgrove said he believed his T-shirt was not “out of character” with the rest of the ceremony. “It wasn’t a stiff upper lip ceremony. The orchestra had their own in-jokes, like when the played that tequila song [as one graduate walked across the stage].”

The decision to wear the T-shirt, Cosgrove explained, was made at the last minute and he added that he wore a suit to the other five graduation ceremonies. “I was in a bit of a rush [that afternoon]. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

VUWSA Welfare Vice-President Melissa Barnard was present when Cosgrove purchased the T-shirt from the VUWSA offices hours before the ceremony, and disputed his claim that his decision that been an impromptu one.

“I was here when he got his T-shirt,” she said. “He said he was going to wear it to graduation, I said not to… [I said] there is a place and a time for the cause.”

While she could see the funny side, Barnard said she was “horrified” and expressed her concerns that Cosgrove’s stunt may detract from the campaign in the future.

“So far we’ve sold 10 T-shirts. The campaign wasn’t something I was going to put all my time and effort into until about mid-July, but I’m [worried] that the message might get lost now.”

Welfare Vice-President of Massey Wellington Students’ Association (MAWSA) Nicole Skews, who devised the campaign, said she selected the slogan “I (heart) my penis” hoping “to get people’s attention in an overt way.”

“There are a lot of generic fade-into-thebackground sexual health campaigns out there,” she explained. “I kept thinking that perhaps if the campaigns actually got people’s attention, and had slogans people would want to get on board with, we wouldn’t have such an issue with [sexually transmitted infections] in young people.”

However, Skews concurred with Barnard’s concerns. “The strength behind the campaign is that it has a serious message which unfortunately could not have been explained to the audience of the ceremony – so it risked being taken in the wrong light.”

Members of the VUWSA Executive expressed their opinions about Cosgrove’s decision at their meeting last week, unanimously passing a motion of censure against their president.

Thomas told Salient that Executive member Fiona McDonald, who graduated in that particular ceremony, was “most upset.”

Similarly, reaction from University management has been largely disapproving of Cosgrove.

According to Thomas, the University’s Chancellor Tim Beaglehole was overheard commenting on Cosgrove’s T-shirt, saying: “I don’t get it.”

“There may have been an expletive in there,” Thomas said.

It has also been alleged that Beaglehole was angrier about Cosgrove’s T-shirt than he had been about the injunction taken against Salient in 2005 when the magazine leaked reports of the University’s plans for a 10 per cent fee increase.

In an interview with TV3 news, University Pro-Chancellor and Wellington City Councillor Ian McKinnon, who was seated beside Cosgrove, described the T-shirt as “extremely embarrassing.”

“It [stole] an important moment from graduates.”

Vice-Chancellor Pat Walsh said he was “very disappointed” with Cosgrove’s decision as well as his “conviction that it was right to wear it [at the ceremony].”

“Graduation is a highlight for most students… To have to walk past the president of their own association wearing such an offensive garment upset many students and diminished the occasion for them.”

“I cannot accept his explanation about how he came to wear the shirt as a reasonable one.”

Cosgrove claimed that Walsh had approached him after the ceremony to inquire about the Tshirt and that Walsh had expressed an interest in becoming involved in the sexual health campaign following Cosgrove’s explanation. This was swiftly denied by Walsh.

“This is not true.”

Walsh went on to ease concerns voiced by some students that Cosgrove’s T-shirt may result in a future VUWSA president no longer being invited to be seated onstage during graduation ceremonies, saying: “[That] is a long-standing tradition and it would be a great shame to see this end as a result of the thoughtless actions of one person.”

“For this reason, it is highly unlikely that the tradition will discontinue.”

Students have called for Cosgrove to make a formal apology. It remains unclear whether the University’s management or Cosgrove will take further action over the matter.

Photos by Sean Gillespie.


About the Author ()

Comments (37)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Bernard Galaxy says:

    A) Campaigns Officer? How could you possibly be upset about all this free attention to your campaign? Doing stuff like that is your job first and foremost, not Joel’s. You obviously fail to know shit about marketing. You will sell plenty of those tee shirts now…and you will draw so much attention to a thing which 99% of the time is left unspoken. oh wait, you didn’t do that Joel did. ahem. You just resent him because you suck at your job. Go figure.

    B) Since when was PENIS an offensive word! any true feminist would tell you it isn’t! A man should be free to love his penis. and he should be free to express that.

    C) Traditionalist are lame. The Academic class structure just like any other class structure is lame. Salients Terrible attempts at one sided reporting are lame, Seriously its easier to believe fox news…and most of all the VUWSA exec members who censured Joel are lame. National exposure for a public health campaign you are running is not a bad thing! no matter how its portrayed.

    D) More men should get STI Checks regularly and also feel comfortable doing so and not ashamed of it. thats the main point

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    A) Aside from the fact that they can now put “AS SEEN ON TV” on their shirts, I don’t think this has done much for the actual campaign. Most of the publicty, eg the TV 3 interview did not concentrate on the sexual health campaign. I counter that it is not in the job description of the campaigns officer to embarrass themselves, the students of their university, the staff of the university and the graduates of thier univeristy. Sonny has been wearing the same shirt around univeristy: The correct time and place to be wearing it, where people can stop him, ask it what it means and be informed. Not while he is sitting on a stage infront of 1500 people who have no clue what it means.

    Is someone jelous that Sonny beat them by over 200 votes in last years VUWSA elections?

    B) I don’t think anyone on here has ever said ‘penis’ is an offensive word. We’re not arguing about that. What we are arguing is that it was inapropriate to wear that shirt, at that time and at that place. You’re right men should be able to proclaim their love fo their penis, but seriously there is a time and a place to express it.

    C) I doubt you can call Salienteers traditionalist, and you’ll have to come up with better arguments than Salient is lame and one sided and akin to fox news. We’re not onesided, we’re doing our what Salient has always done, report on the bumblings of the VUWSA exec. As soon as Joel starts doing good things we’ll start reporting about them.

    D) More men should get STI Checks regularly and also feel comfortable doing so and not ashamed of it. That is what you would like the main point to be. Unfortunetly it is not. The point is, as I and others have said over and over and over again, that Joel picked the wrong time and place to wear the shirt.

  3. Kerry says:

    Graduate –

    I’ve graduated twice this century, and sat through two very tedious graduations for my ex-husband and his brother, back in the 80’s, so I have some experience to compare this with.

    We don’t do capping reviews any more, nobody does capping stunts, we barely have anything to acknowledge that once you’ve passed everything, you can let your hair down for a while.
    Joel did that, while at the same time promoting a very unspoken but worthy cause.

    I was in the Friday evening grad ceremony, where the NZSOM played ditties for many of the graduating students from other schools, and an individual ditty for each BMus graduating.
    My sister thought it was all a lot of fun, and joined in by shouting encouragement when I was heading across the stage towards Professor Beaglehole, as many friends and relatives of graduands did on the night I graduated.
    It was light-hearted, funny and very well received, and I was so glad not to be in an audience full of reactionary stuffed-shirt young fogeys who might have taken offense at such behaviour.

    Joel also jumped up and hugged his girlfriend as she set off across the stage, which was cheered by a group of their friends in the audience.

    My mother and sister, who’d travelled all day to attend, were thrilled to meet Joel afterwards, and Mum (a grandmother, pensioner, ex-teacher, white-haired, etc..) thought it was all very much a highlight of the ceremony to have such idiosyncratic actions included.

    Perhaps those of you who never attend a performance of live theatre don’t understand that some variation in performance is acceptable, that large, repeated events can become very tedious, and that creative, artistic people have more to contribute to University life than you give them credit for.

  4. Graeme Edgeler says:

    Hey – if the Chancellor is particularly miffed at Cosgrove, maybe someone should take an SGM petition to him :-)

    He’s a life member of VUWSA, and is allowed to vote to roll.

  5. Jackson Wood says:

    “we barely have anything to acknowledge that once you’ve passed everything, you can let your hair down for a while.
    Joel did that”

    Except he hasn’t graduated…

    “where the NZSOM played ditties for many of the graduating students from other schools, and an individual ditty for each BMus graduating.
    My sister thought it was all a lot of fun, and joined in by shouting encouragement when I was heading across the stage towards Professor Beaglehole, as many friends and relatives of graduands did on the night I graduated.”

    Once again someone misses the point… It is highly unlikely that someone is going to be offended by music, or cheering of encouragement!

    “Joel also jumped up and hugged his girlfriend as she set off across the stage, which was cheered by a group of their friends in the audience.”
    Good for him, he should be allowed to! That is not inappropriate, that is celebrating her sucess! It is no different to a couple of students recieving flowers on stage during other ceremonies.

    “large, repeated events can become very tedious, and that creative, artistic people have more to contribute to University life than you give them credit for.”
    Some would argue that wearing an “I heart my penis” shirt is neither creative or artistic as he didn’t make it himself, and the design is a plagerism of the world famous “I heart NY” design

  6. Gibbon says:

    what the fuck do you know about theatre kerry

  7. Brunswick says:

    Kerry knows a lot about theatre, Gibbon. Do you have to be so rude?

  8. blogette says:

    perhaps she could list her qualifications for everyone’s edification

  9. Strange that the author of this wee article quotes from the comments that were offended by Joel’s shirt, but not from the many comments that weren’t, and thought that the whole thing is a big fuss over nothing. Bias much?

    And Jackson Wood, you appear to be busily redefining the term P.

  10. Seonah says:

    Since the article was about the reaction that was caused by Joel’s T-shirt, it seemed appropriate to me as the author of this article to pay more attention to the comments that did not think the whole thing was a big fuss over nothing. Furthermore, if I had been really biased, I’m sure I could have been more effective by ignoring the other side of the issue altogether.

  11. And furthermore, it’s pretty hard to find people who did appreciate the shirt..

    Don’t make fun of Jackson’s P use. It’s all that gets a Salient writer through the day.

  12. Harry Universe says:

    It is sad that Bernard Galaxy thinks that because he finds traditionalists “lame” it somehow makes it ok for Joel to insult the staff, graduates and families of graduates by wearing his offensive T-shirt. As a graduate and father of a graduate of Victoria University, I would hope that even the most irreverent students and their hangers-on would have grown out of this form of selfish, juvenile exhibitionism. I do not doubt that Joel’s behaviour was a deliberate act to insult some or all of those present. It shows very poor judgment, pitiful taste and total lack of the sort of leadership that one would expect of a person in his position. For him to then deny that any negative comments were made about his choice of attire beggars belief. I am surprised that there have not been strident demands for that boy’s resignation. And, yes Bernard, I am sure that Joel does love his penis. I imagine he spends a great deal of time with it in his hand fondling it.
    Incidentally, I find the “I (heart) my penis” not only to be tasteless, puerile, plagiaristic and offensive, it also does not immediately enlighten the beholder about the message it is supposedly trying to convey. Rather than a plea for males to beware of STD’s, it could possibly indicate membership of a narcissist club or perhaps a group who are promoting an onanist lifestyle. You can’t help suspecting that some subtle feminist male-hater hatched a scheme to con guys into wearing this shirt which basically says “I am a wanker”.

  13. Isn’t writing off a graduation as stiff, and worthy for hijack a bit rude? Think what you want about academic traditionalism, and the case is a worthy one, or Salient’s reporting or whatever you’re particular beef with the way things are run is, but isn’t it just deciding for someone else? If you feel so strongly about a graduation ceremony as to think it pointless, why not exact your protest by not going? My graduation was slightly slow, but it was a big moment is culminating the end of my studies, and for my mother to see me dressed pretty. Protest through abstention is always best and more morally honourable. Why do people so insist on mocking those who just want to experience the formality of a graduation in recognition for their study, no matter how dull that is in someone’s eyes?

    Joel is a bit of a joke. But what’s new? He’s never been the most honest of kids either, and it’s a little embarrassing to see him get caught so many times.

    Also, to call someone’s attempt to express their own opinion in censure for another’s as “lame” is kind of dumb… Especially when that tone of the paragraph invoked FOX news in a negative way. FOX seems to be incensed constantly at others who disagree with them, constantly. You seem outraged anyone could see it otherwise. But we all react within our own sensibilities.

    Controversy for controversies sake is always lame. In two months people will remember Joel’s ridiculous smiling mug, proud of the exposure he’s bought himself. Much the way a year or so later, I can still remember Joel’s wincing mug on the front page of the paper being brutally dominated by a female police officer, but for the life of me, what was protesting?

    I hate Joel’s penis. It’s a constant reminder of his ability to breed.

  14. think its funny says:

    TV 3 Article

    Student president censured over offensive tee shirt
    Wed, 21 May 2008 06:06p.m.

    Victoria University’s student president has been reprimanded for wearing a tee shirt deemed offensive to a graduation ceremony.

    The tee shirt proclaimed his love for a particular part of his anatomy.

    It is supposed to encourage men to get checked for sexually transmitted infections.

    But it has not gone down well with senior staff or students.

    It is an eye catching tee shirt designed to spread awareness about men’s sexual health.

    But the decision by Victoria University’s student president, Joel Cosgrove, to don the slogan at a formal graduation has not been popular.

    “It is a little inappropriate, it’s not the time or the place,” says one student.

    “Extraordinarily embarrassing for people, and stealing from a very important moment for the graduates and their families. There were 1500 people there and to steal from that is totally unacceptable,” says Ian McKinnon, the University Pro Chancellor.

    What further riled some staff and students was that while seated staff passed him two notes urging him to cover up the offending tee shirt. The note said the tee shirt was being seen in graduates’ photos and on screen.

    But the action of their elected representative, a media studies student who has yet to graduate himself, has not upset all students.

    What he may not have wanted though is an official reprimand, the vice chancellor has written to Cosgrove and says he was deeply offended and his lack of respect was appalling.

  15. Nick Archer says:

    James Robinson: “Controversy for controversies sake is always lame.”

    Reminds me of your Chinese controversy…

  16. James was trying to be controversial? Thought it was just satire..

  17. Nick Archer says:

    Didn’t come across as satire, was pretty lame to be honest and reeked of attention seeking i.e. back page of Salient with Penguins, totally made a mockery of a serious international cultural incident, therefore milking the controversy created, if that is satire then maybe the I Heart My Penis incident shows that some should just get over it and see the irony of the PC reaction it got, I’d rather see an ‘I Heart My Penis’ T-Shirt at a graduation than some satire that makes it into Salient over the years…

  18. Ex-Salienteers locked in war, will it ever end

  19. Nick Archer says:

    ha ha, yep, nah I like pretty much all the other ex salienteers and Laura’s cool, but it is good to have debate about things every now and there… Haven’t seen much sport reporting in Salient this year, but it was big year last year with World Cup and all, anyway things quietened down with break and all but Gender Studies is still under attack so I expect to read some more about that after the break…

  20. Kerry says:

    I’ve been on holiday.

    So, in diminishing order of chronology:

    Blogette: my film & theatre CV:
    ‘extra’ acting credit, Irrefutable Truth About Demons, dir Glenn Standring, ’99;
    paid work on 3 parts of LOTR trilogy, 2000 (prosthetics technician); dressing for Wellington Musical Theatre, 2001-2002; Fringe Festival shows, 2001 & 2003; and occasional involvement in student theatre & film projects from 1988 onwards, including entries in last years’ VASFA’s.
    Plus lots of theatre reviewing over many years. Some published under my own name, some not. My academic drama credits are in French playwrights.

    Nick – nice to hear you’re interested in the outcome of the G&WS stoush.
    All genders welcome to protest with us…
    8.40am, outside the Academic Board meeting, Hunter Building, VUW, Thursday 5th June, 2008.

  21. chris says:

    Ex-Salienteers locked in war, will it ever end
    Not only that, but the same ex salienters being interviewed by current salienters who spend more time interviewing current salienters and ex salienters for their saleint stories than anyone outside salient.

    Time to lift your game, perhaps.

  22. Seonah says:

    Laura was quoted once in the article, and even including her quotes in the other story regarding graduation (the first instances this year), I think it would be a grossly inaccurate statement to make that I have been spending more time interviewing her than anyone outside Salient for the news stories this year.

  23. Laura says:

    But what about all my pseudonyms? Like Pat Walsh and Joel Cosgrove.

  24. Brunswick says:

    There’s a world outside Salient?

  25. AUSA President David Do walked around in a penis costume to raise awareness on their campus. Would it be ok to wear a penis costume to graduation?

  26. Awww… I totally missed out on being slammed by Nick Archer. I should hang out here more often.

    Nick, the Chinese thing was one small line in top 5; do you actually know what happened? The offending article was such a small part of the issue that when the guy who started the whole stink came in, I didn’t actually know what he was talking about. Which apparently incensed him either further. So I could make an argument that the controversial item was so trivial I created the controversy by forgetting about it, and incensing the already annoyed nephew of the Chinese ambassador. And that controversy was fucking stupid, as it was a stupid joke – I never defended it’s intelligence, Top 5 is the most throwaway part of the magazine, and it’s really stupid to receive so many death threats each day by phone and email that you keep a bat handy “just in case”, and someone throws a lighter at your head in public and has perfect aim. There was nothing cool about that, the joke wasn’t a memorable one, the controversy wasn’t worth it, and it was a pretty crap four weeks of my life.

    The penguin thing was just funny, ’cause it’s the speech that Danny DeVito gives in Batman Returns, and Batman Returns is awesome. It was just me having a laugh at it at the end of a bad few weeks.

    Nick, have we met? “I pretty much like all the other ex-Salienters”.

    It’s alright man, it’s alright….

  27. Rangi says:

    shame bro…

  28. Karl Bronstein says:

    Kerry – “I’ve been on holiday”
    From what?

  29. blogette says:

    bronstein – classic. well done.

  30. Nick Archer says:

    James I don’t mind you too much, all ex Salient types are ok, even though I probably wouldn’t agree with you on a lot of things (top 5, context of it was fine even though it was racist, a lot of satire is, it seems you had crap 4 weeks as you weren’t able to explain the context, it was probably your explanation that was poorly done or otherwise that did it, it seems you recovered though), Every year Salient has its controversy (last year it was How TO RIP OFF WINZ and How to Bomb the US Embassy)I met you briefly last year and you seem to have a large personality, take it you are still in USA… Am heading over there myself for the elections in Oct/Nov…

  31. Karl Bronstein says:

    Enoch Powell has two L’s and he IS the greatest politician of our time.

    “When she goes to the shops, she is followed by children, charming, wide-grinning piccaninnies. They cannot speak English, but one word they know. “Racialist”, they chant. When the new Race Relations bill is passed, this woman is convinced she will go to prison. And is she so wrong? I begin to wonder” touching stuff.

  32. Ah Rivers of Blood, one of the most misunderstood speeches of modern political history. Still a pretty racist one though.

  33. Dr. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    “AUSA President David Do walked around in a penis costume to raise awareness on their campus.”

    Joel does not need the costume, he just is.

  34. biasedconrad says:

    The bias never dies on this thread…

  35. You mean everyone has opinions? You’re one of the Workers Party kids again aren’t you

  36. Dr. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    I’m not Conrad either. I’m actually the ghost of M. L. Boyd, editor of Salient in the early 40’s.

  37. Omg, I made a justified comment about Joel Cosgrove that the majority of people agree with.

    Oh woe, better lock me up for double speak.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required