When classes resumed following the winter break, the Concordia community was greeted by widely publicized allegations of sexual misconduct by instructors in the university’s creative writing program. These accusations came as a shock to some, but for many current and former English department students, they were simply a long-overdue acknowledgment of an “open secret.”
As was reported in the weeks that followed, the behaviour of certain teachers and the overall toxic, misogynistic environment of the creative writing program was not only common knowledge among many English department students—it had been publicly written about before. Former student Emma Healey published a personal essay online about her abusive relationship with an instructor years ago, and several students brought their concerns directly to the department in 2015.
Although it took the words of a male alumnus, Mike Spry, to finally catch the attention of the news media and the university’s administration, we at The Concordian are glad to see that, two months later, this problem has not been swept under the rug. An investigation into the allegations is underway. Two creative writing teachers have been suspended, and a task force is being assembled to review the university’s policies for preventing and dealing with sexual misconduct and sexual violence.
On Feb. 28, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) hosted a student congress to gather input about policy changes regarding sexual misconduct on campus directly from the student body. According to Leyla Sutherland, the CSU’s student life coordinator, these suggestions will be integrated into a proposal the union will present to the university’s administration.
One of the most prominent proposals for the task force discussed during the student congress was the implementation of university-funded, mandatory consent and power-dynamics training for all students, staff and faculty members. We at The Concordian strongly support this demand. The university should be a safe space for students to learn, flourish and achieve their academic goals. Staff and faculty members should support and empower student success, not hinder or threaten it.
Over the last few years, the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) and the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association (CASAJMSB) have implemented mandatory consent training workshops for all of their frosh attendees. Ensuring student safety at frosh is vital, but sexual violence on campus is not limited to that first week of socializing and drinking. The Sexual Assault Resource Centre has also held consent workshops for Stingers teams and first-year students living in residence. It is long-overdue that Concordia’s administration follow the lead of its student associations and ensure its entire community is informed and protected throughout the year.
During the student congress, many students also voiced their anger about the way the university has handled sexual misconduct allegations in the past, claiming such incidents had been covered-up to protect Concordia’s reputation. This is why we at The Concordian believe university-implemented consent training should come with an acknowledgement by Concordia of its shortcomings.
Throughout their university degree, most students will hear at least one professor reiterate a variation of Socrates’s statement: “All I know is that I know nothing.” These words are meant to remind students that, in order to learn, one must first set aside their ego and admit they are ignorant.
As an educational institution, Concordia should also be willing to learn—and this begins by admitting mistakes and ignorance. Doing so would represent a commitment by the university to prioritize long-term, concrete change over its short-term public relations goals. Doing so would be a first step in rebuilding confidence in the university’s ability to protect its students and prioritize their well-being.
Although there is still a lot of work to be done, we at The Concordian believe there is reason to hope for substantial, positive change. But we would like to remind Concordia’s administration why this change did not come sooner. When students spoke up, the administration did not listen.
So, to the university’s administration: please turn to page two of this newspaper and read our coverage of the CSU student congress. The students are speaking; are you listening?