CSU’s student congress to gather information about potential sexual misconduct policy changes
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) will be hosting a student congress on Feb. 28 to collect ideas for policy changes to improve the way sexual misconduct on campus is dealt with. This comes after the university announced it would be creating a Sexual Violence and Misconduct Task Force in response to several sexual misconduct allegations made against professors in the English department.
The purpose of the congress is to gather information directly from students. Leyla Sutherland, the CSU’s student life coordinator, said her goal is to “present some implementable policy changes at congress” so students can voice their opinions and the CSU can adapt their proposal accordingly. “Then, [we’ll] sit back down with the administration and say, ‘Not only do we want to see these changes, but the student body at large does too,’” Sutherland said.
On Feb. 2, Concordia’s provost and vice-president of academic affairs, Graham Carr, announced the university would allow the CSU to select the undergraduate students who would be part of the task force. This complied with only one of several requests made by the student union at a press conference on Feb. 1 to address concerns about the task force member selection process. Since then, Sutherland said interactions between the union and the university have been “tense.”
The CSU learned on Feb. 7 that Concordia would not be handing over any task force member applications submitted to the university by students before the CSU was given nomination responsibility. Without those applications, the CSU fears students who wanted to have their voices heard would miss out on the opportunity.
Initially, Concordia University spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr told The Concordian the applications could not be handed over to the CSU due to security and confidentiality issues, because “some of the information in the applications is sensitive.” Nonetheless, on Feb. 12, the university provided the CSU with the names of the students, but not the applications, of those who had applied so the union could consider them for nomination.
Veronika Rydzewski, the CSU’s internal affairs coordinator and a member of the task force appointment committee, estimates they have received about 10 to 15 applications from students so far. She said the committee receives a few applications every day, and applications will continue to be accepted until Feb. 16. According to Rydzewski, the CSU will announce their nominees for the task force on Feb. 22.
According to Sutherland, the university told the CSU they did not want a student on the selection committee with “politics to represent.” Although the CSU could nominate someone involved in student politics, Sutherland said that is not a priority. However, she admitted that “having a person on the committee with some familiarity with the structures of the university and the CSU” would be beneficial to the process. Among the student union’s concerns with Concordia’s initial decision to select the undergraduate task force members was that the university could potentially pick students who “wouldn’t question the structures already in place,” Sutherland said.
When deciding what values should guide the congress, the CSU consulted the national action plan put together by the student initiative Our Turn and released in October 2017. This plan offers recommendations for policy changes and specific actions that universities can use as a guide to prevent and deal with sexual violence on campus. According to Sutherland, the CSU attempted to bring these recommendations to the school’s attention back in November, with little luck.
“Unfortunately, the administration didn’t meet with us for several months. They kept rescheduling our meeting, and by the time they met with us, it was after the allegations had come out,” she said, adding that the meeting only lasted about 30 minutes, and the recommendations didn’t seem to be a high priority for the university. “We will continue to advocate for a lot of the changes that are proposed within the Our Turn plan,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland said she believes the difference between the congress and the task force comes down to approaching the issue with “a different lens.” The congress will be more of an open-floor discussion, Sutherland said, where there will be no restrictions on who can provide input or ideas.
“In the same way that the task force was struck in response to the allegations, […] this congress is in response to what is going on,” Sutherland said. “But it’s not a case of checking a box. It’s to open a wider discussion that could lead to a number of different policy changes and actions.”
In terms of specific policy changes that will come from the task force, Barr said “it is too early to determine how the task force will function or how their findings will be implemented.” The university has stated the task force will release their findings sometime this spring.
According to Sutherland, the CSU’s ideal outcome for the congress would be to allow students who are interested in getting involved the chance to connect. “What we want to talk about at congress would be, not only what we want to see in the next few weeks and months, but what we want to see in the next few years,” Sutherland said.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin