Following the requirements enforced by 2017’s bill 151 on preventing and fighting sexual violence in higher education institutions, Concordia University partnered with the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) and Knowledge One to develop online training for all faculty members, including students and staff. As a result, It takes all of us offers guidelines, scenarios and definitions of what sexual violence means.
The mandatory training, which can be found through MyConcordia’s webpage, tackles myths and facts of either assault or harassment while defining what consent is. For Jennifer Drummond, coordinator for the SARC, it’s especially crucial during the first weeks of a new semester to provide everyone with the right information, which research has shown to be the time of year most prone to sexual violence.
“It’s a huge issue and a hard one,” Drummond said. “It really takes everyone to participate in training and increasing their knowledge around this issue to participate in preventing sexual violence.”
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, many on-campus sexual assaults occur during the first eight weeks of classes. It suggests a number of factors, some of which are moving away from home for the first time, being in a new city, or not having a lot of friends to rely on yet.
And then there’s Frosh. It’s known to anyone who has ever attended a college or university – or even just watched any American college movie – these Frosh weeks lead to parties and events inevitably full of risky situations. Drummond says drugs and alcohol are definitely a factor in sexual violence, not in terms of ever blaming someone for being a victim of sexual violence, but more about people perpetuating sexual violence as a result of using drugs and alcohol. But is understanding the difference and changing such mentalities feasible via online training?
“There is always more education and more awareness that needs to be done,” Drummond said. “This is a huge topic and it affects a lot of people. I think it’s important to remember that changing culture is a long-term project. This is one part of that and it’s going to get everyone on our campus to have a shared language around this.”
Online training is an interesting format when you try to reach as many people as possible, while in-person training for a campus community of over 50 thousand people is not realistic, Drummond said. The university consulted with faculty, students and staff – including survivors of sexual violence – to gather suggestions and feedback throughout the process. Various visuals and audio projects along with statistics can be paused or skipped by hitting the button I feel overwhelmed – this button was designed for people who might experience flashbacks from past assault.
Obviously, it’s more than useful to have all the information gathered in one place. Such training, especially given that it’s mandatory, will help to get everyone on the same level of knowledge and awareness. Drummond also hopes it will allow people to engage in more complicated conversations around subjects that are hard to tackle.
Yet, while the training provides many scenarios illustrating sexual violence between students on and off-campus, It takes all of us missed the chance to include student-teacher scenarios. For the past few years, Concordia has received a great number of sexual assault and harassment complaints towards its staff members. It would have been empowering for a university to acknowledge that these situations exist, and even greater to include them in their mandatory sexual violence training. Unfortunately, this dimension of on-campus sexual violence is hardly addressed; in fact, it’s only brought up at the very end of the 45-minute video, through links to external documents.
According to the SARC, there is a second version of the training intended for faculty staff. It focuses further on power dynamics and guidelines for student-faculty interactions, whether romantic or sexual. On Jan. 26, 2018, the university issued new guidelines addressing the unequal, institutional power dynamics within instructor-student relationships. These guidelines, along with the mandatory training, is part of the provincial government’s effort to fight sexual violence across universities and colleges.
All faculty members have until Oct. 4 to complete the training for the fall semester and a series of warning emails will be sent as the date approaches. But Concordia’s seriousness in dealing with sexual violence truly reveals itself through the ultimate sanction of denying access to winter class registration to any student who hasn’t completed the training.
“People are feeling great that their university is taking steps on this issue and really being ambitious in terms of the deadline for people to complete it,” said Drummond. ”It is everyone’s responsibility to engage and help prevent [sexual violence] from happening.”
The tone is set.
Graphic by Victoria Blair