Students demand a standalone policy on sexual violence and misconduct
Many Concordia students are unhappy with the way the university has handled sexual misconduct complaints. So much so that students will be protesting this Friday in front of the administration building to demonstrate against Concordia’s inaction.
Gaby Novoa, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said it’s important to unite in support of survivors of sexual violence. “The administration has demonstrated that they are not interested in listening to students—we are protesting to make sure that our campaign for a survivor-centric policy is heard, and recognized as urgent and essential,” said Novoa.
According to Bill 151: An Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions, universities must have a standalone policy. Although Concordia has repeatedly said its current policy is a standalone one; it refers to the academic code of conduct and the various collective agreements and contracts with faculty regarding the appropriate procedures for filing and responding to a complaint.
“It’s really hard to read if you’re a survivor going through this process,” said Margot Berner, one of the demonstration’s organizers. The current policy, according to Berner, “really cements that gap between faculty and student because they are held to different standards and they have different protections under these policies.”
Although the university’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence has been holding community conversations to hear feedback from the students, Berner said they haven’t been heard. Students have even presented the committee with an extensive document outlining the issues they perceived in the current policy and how to mend them.
For Berner, the protest is a “response to the administration being very focused on PR and not really focused on making actual changes to their policy.” She added “there’s been no action, there’s been no assurances, there’s no concrete timeline we can hold them accountable to and it’s mostly been institutional gaslighting.”
The students are demanding a standalone policy on sexual violence, a concrete action plan with timelines to respond to student recommendations and that Concordia lobby the Quebec government to change its privacy laws.
Per Quebec’s privacy laws, educational institutions cannot reveal the result of an internal investigation to the public nor to the complainant. “As a university, they have a lot of power, and a lot of pull, and they have a lot of friends in government,” said Berner. “Even just making these demands public and working towards this step-by-step is something they can do.”
Berner said the university’s been dismissive of the students’ request at community conversation, going as far as changing the format of the community conversations. Instead of the initial back-and-forth conversations students were able to have, the sessions were changed to a presentation and a controlled question period. “If they are going to ignore our voices, we’re going to get a lot louder,” said Berner.
Diana Gerasimov, another organizer of the protest, said “I think we, as current students within the current sexual violence climate at Concordia, have a greater responsibility to persevere with our aim for policy changes to be seen as high-priority.”
Graphic by Ana Bilokin.