Concordia ranks last in sexual assault study

Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre’s campaign poster. Photo by Alex Hutchins

University receives D- grade in student-led evaluation of sexual assault policies

Concordia’s sexual assault policies are the worst out of 15 major Canadian universities, according to a recent student-led study.

Our Turn: A National, Student-Led Action Plan to End Campus Sexual Violence, which was published on Oct. 11, looked at the sexual assault policies of 15 Canadian universities and graded them on a 100-point scale.

The best-ranked university was Ryerson, with 81 per cent, or an A-. Ryerson was followed by the University of British Columbia, with 78 per cent, and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, with 75.5 per cent. With a score of 52 per cent, or a D-, Concordia was the lowest-ranked university on the list.

The study based its scores on 45 weighted criteria. Among other reasons, Concordia’s policy had points deducted for failing to reference rape culture, punishing students for making false claims and for not processing faculty and staff claims using the same policy as students.

The evaluations were carried out by members of each university’s student union, using the 45-item checklist. According to CSU general coordinator Omar Riaz, the Concordia evaluation was overseen by academic and advocacy coordinator Asma Mushtaq and student life coordinator Leyla Sutherland. Neither executive could be reached for comment before publication.

Concordia University spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said the university is “surprised by the findings of this particular report, as there appear to be several inaccuracies.” Six points were deducted from Concordia’s score for not having a standalone policy on sexual violence, even though such a policy has existed since May 2016. “We will follow up with the study authors to better understand the criteria employed and to seek corrections where necessary,” Barr said.

The study was authored by Our Turn, a collective of students from across Canada, chaired by Carleton students Caitlin Salvino, Kelsey Gilchrist and Jade Cooligan Pang. Our Turn started with a campaign to improve the new Carleton University Sexual Violence Policy in the fall of 2016. Three human rights students, including Salvino, drafted an open letter to the Carleton administration suggesting reforms to the incoming policy.

Despite collecting thousands of signatures from students, student groups and faculty, the changes were not implemented. As the students researched student-led solutions to campus sexual violence, they discovered other universities were facing “a crisis of campus sexual violence and an administration reluctant to work with students to address the issue,” according to the study.

To date, 20 student unions, including the CSU, have signed onto the National Our Turn Action Plan. There are three components to this plan: prevention, including awareness campaigns and support training; support, including the creation of a campus survivor network and academic accommodations for survivors; and advocacy, including student-led campaigns to reform existing sexual violence policies.

According to Barr, “this fall, the university will ask for online community input on the university’s Sexual Assault Working Group’s report recommendations, and members of the community will be encouraged to share their thoughts, concerns and perspectives.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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