Women have spoken about this “open secret” before
I recently had a conversation in which my friend declared his surprise that sexual misconduct, the same thing that sparked the Hollywood mega-scandal, occurred in the microcosm of our university. I did not understand this reaction any more than I did when I opened an email from Concordia president Alan Shepard last week. In the email, Shepard stated how “disturbed” he was by the allegations of sexual misconduct made against faculty members.
As news story after news story breaks, I find myself increasingly suspicious of the surprised reactions coming from the heads of host institutions. The way individual cases are framed as “scandals” undermines the severity of the issue of sexual misconduct as a whole, relegating it to isolated incidents committed by bad people, rather than a chronic, social malady. This culture that perpetuates sexual misconduct was created and functions based on the very behaviour now denounced as “scandalous.” If we can agree that women have been systematically oppressed throughout history, then why are cases of sexual misconduct often viewed as one-time, “scandalous” occurrences?
It should be no “open secret” that women have always faced varying shades of sexual misconduct across all professions and within all social institutions. The teacher-student dynamic offers an extra level of vulnerability; I can’t help but feel like I’ve fallen into a terrible trap every time I receive an unsolicited sexual or otherwise inappropriate comment from a teacher who is too friendly for the wrong reasons.
I know too many of my peers have found themselves in these situations and worse. We often carry into the classroom the same anxiety, the same enduring mentality of self-preservation we feel when walking alone at night.
To deny knowledge of these allegations proves only greater faults in the university’s administration. Women have long been trying to speak out about what has only now become a front-page scandal. For Concordia’s president to say he will “respond effectively when it does happen” and yet only respond when a male former student retrospectively declares remorse for having witnessed it—this only reinforces a system that effectively silences or ignores women when they try to speak up about their experiences.
A thorough investigation is a place to start, however overdue it may be, because merely being “shocked” and “disturbed” is not nearly enough to change an institution and the toxic culture that pervades it.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin