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ASFA initiates sexual harassment reforms

by Milos Kovacevic April 14, 2015
ASFA initiates sexual harassment reforms

Institutes mandatory training, fires implicated consultant—but debate continues

Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation of Association (ASFA) acted on recent allegations over executive sexual harassment and racism by voting to make sensitivity training mandatory for all incoming staff—for some, an action slow in coming.

They also voted to sever their relationship with the former President named in the allegations, Paul Jerajian, who was up until then working as an unpaid consultant with the organization. This decision came about after several hours spent debating the validity and legality of the the original motion, which looked toward impeaching Jerajian.

The other individual involved in the allegations, former VP Social Sean Nolan, sent a resignation letter hours before the meeting, seemingly escaping the prospect of impeachment—for now. Nolan cited health issues as the reason behind his leaving. He had two months left in his mandate.

The two were implicated in allegations made by a former colleague, under the pseudonym of Mei-Ling, that the pair routinely subjected her to a climate of sexism. She’s since opened up a case before the Quebec Human Rights Commission, and one salient piece of evidence she brought with her was a conversation discovered on social media, showing the pair speaking about her in a racist and sexually degrading manner.

Though the decision to institute sensitivity and consent training was lauded by some as a “huge step” to be proud of, the decision of what do over Jerajian and Nolan was a more mixed affair.

“Even if they don’t think they are biased to want to protect their friend it is inherently a fact because of how close some of them are,” said Lana Galbraith, president of the Liberal Arts Society, who said many of the people were looking for cosmetic change because it “looked good” and not because it “will do good.”

The viewpoint of one of her colleagues showed the wide split in opinion on the issue. He argued in the council session that there was insufficient evidence to show any of the allegations had merit, thus making any decision for impeachment or severance a dangerous precedent.

Galbraith, however, remained adamant.

“My own councillor definitely did not represent his constituency, as he said that there wasn’t enough evidence to take any action against [them],” she said, but lauded the council’s decision to institute mandatory sensitivity training.

The debate over the definition of what is proper and required will doubtlessly continue, especially if more individuals step forward with their own stories of abuse and discrimination. An attempt to strip both Jerajian and Nolan of their end-of-year bonuses likewise stalled; whatever they were accused of at the moment, some said, did not undo the fact they had performed their required duties to ASFA and thus were entitled to their full honorariums.

“The desire for accountability is definitely growing,” said Mariah Gillis, VP Internal for the Urban Planning Association, who’s one of the individuals continuing a petition to impeach Nolan. “They want accountability, and there are more of them everyday.”

Galbraith hoped the scandal would lead to long-term reform in the student group, but cautioned more was required to raise the student body’s consciousness than immediate emergency measures.

“I think it’s worthy of mentioning that ASFA has little to no visibility to its members,” said Galbraith. “When I was getting signatures last week [for impeachment] a lot of people had no idea what ASFA was until Mei Ling’s story broke.”

“Hopefully, this can be a learning experience for them.”

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