Union pushes for consent, survivor-centric culture among student representatives
The Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) new sexual violence and safer spaces policy aims to foster consent culture and a survivor-centric attitude when addressing incidents and promoting services. This policy applies to all student representatives in the union, including executives, councillors, judicial board members, senate members, official employees and students-at-large.
The sexual violence policy describes the CSU’s new process for handling sexual assault complaints against any representative with its own investigations. This process is entirely separate from the university’s sexual assault policy and processes. The new sexual violence policy and code of conduct were first approved by the policy committee but unanimously passed by council on April 10.
The sexual violence policy was completed as part of the campaign of last year’s winning slate, Speak Up, and created by Mikaela Clark-Gardner, the academic & advocacy coordinator, and Sophie Hough-Martin, the CSU’s general coordinator.
According to Hough-Martin, all CSU members can file complaints against student union representatives. A sexual violence accountability committee (SVAC) will be created to handle complaints of a sexual nature. It will consist of one student-at-large, a community member with experience in advocacy or activism, a CSU representative, a third-party investigator, and a member of the judicial board.
A person who wishes to file a complaint can do so in a written statement to the SVAC, which would include the names of the complainant and the respondent, the date of the alleged incident, the alleged behaviour and any additional relevant material. When the SVAC receives the complaint, it will investigate it by contacting the witnesses and gathering any relevant evidence to complete an investigative report.
Once a final decision has been made, it can be appealed within seven days. However, it must be based on new evidence, provable bias or prejudice against either the respondent or complainant, or an error in the investigation.
For non-sexual harassment, a person can file a complaint under the code of conduct in a written statement to the judicial board no later than 90 business days after the incident. When deciding whether the respondent violated the code of conduct, the judicial board makes its decision based on a variety of factors. The board’s decision can also be appealed.
“The fact that we did not have a proper sexual violence policy and code of conduct, it made grounds that people could take liberties with what they said and did,” said Samantha Candido, a CSU councillor. Candido emphasized the importance of these policies; The CSU has been working on them for the past year with the help of lawyers, students and executives.
It is also a standalone policy, which means it does not refer to nor rely on other policies. The policy also takes an intersectional approach and makes sure all members who partake in spaces organized by the CSU have a safe space where respectable dialogue, language and behaviours are enforced.
With the new policy, all CSU representatives will be required to complete a series of trainings, including a consent and power dynamics training for executives and a consent training for councillors. If a member fails to complete the trainings or refuses to follow them, they will be fired from their position. A sexual violence accountability committee will be created to handle complaints of a sexual nature.
The policy waiver “will ensure that we not only read the code of conduct, but we also read the sexual violence policy [and] we are committing ourselves to acting and behaving in a respectful way,” Candido said. She added that the new sexual violence policy comes a month after the CSU’s Internal Affairs Coordinator Princess Somefun’s resignation due to a toxic work environment. The two new policies aim to set a standard for how union representatives should behave towards one another physically and verbally.
The policy committee will review the sexual violence policy every two years and the SVAC, Sexual Assault Resource Centre, and the Centre for Gender Advocacy will be consulted during this process. The code of conduct will also be reviewed with the judicial board within a year of its placement and every two years thereafter.
Candido hopes to see a non-violent environment in the meetings next year. “We have the expectation that, with the next mandate coming in, there will be a much better dialogue at council meetings,” she said.
Photo by Mia Anhoury.