There is a lesson to be learned from what happened on campus this week
It’s ironic that this week, just as the world begins to rally together for Sexual Assault Awareness month, the Concordia community was shaken by a scandal dealing with this very issue. Ironic in the worst possible way.
Several members of student associations at Concordia came forward this week detailing stories of sexual harassment and intimidation from their male colleagues. As horrific as the content of the allegations brought forward, so too was the response from our fellow students and university when the women in question first sought help.
Instead of responding proactively, the same old sexual shaming, patronizing, and willful ignorance reared their ugly heads.
University campuses across North America are notorious for mishandling issues surrounding consent and violence on campus. But it’s important to recognize that this is also a workplace harassment issue that could be paralleled in any office, student-run or not.
The instance of male colleagues making inappropriate sexual comments about female employees is not a new story, nor is the reaction it often elicits.
This week’s anonymous confessions detail a disgusting trend of willful ignorance exhibited by those student leaders who were approached early on by the victims. Rather than take the disclosures seriously and follow up with appropriate action, the pattern of “advice” was to accept it, deal with it, or just laugh it off. Rare individuals showed sympathy but contributed little in the way of proactive measures.
This is entirely the case for many women who feel harassed in the work- place and are stonewalled by colleagues who expect them to suck it up and not cause a stir.
While student associations at the university are intentionally autonomous from the administration, policies governing the behaviour of students should be failsafe. The university’s lack of immediate response or intent to pursue action proved disappointing and disheartening.
Despite their public stance against sexual harassment, the university’s current policies fail to effectively protect victims and prevent similar cases. In order to foster a culture of respect and consent, student associations need to work with the university to provide widespread sensitivity training.
Let what happened at Concordia this week, what has taken place on campuses all around the nation, be a lesson: one that we still have so much to learn. Sexual harassment is still way too common across the board, no matter the age group. Changing policies is the first step, but for that to work, we must change the way we think.