Concordia’s decision fulfills only one of the union’s requests for more transparency
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) will take over the process of recruiting undergraduate students for the new university task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, announced Graham Carr, the university’s provost and vice-president of academic affairs, on Feb. 2.
This decision comes one day after the student union held a press conference outlining their opposition to multiple procedures regarding the nomination process for the two undergraduate spots available on the task force.
The controversy began on Jan. 26, when Concordia president Alan Shepard released a statement outlining steps the university would be taking in the wake of allegations of sexual violence and misconduct against multiple faculty members in the creative writing program.
One of the steps was the creation of a task force that would review current policies and processes, as well as Bill 151, a piece of Quebec legislation requiring universities to take certain steps to address and prevent sexual violence.
It was later announced that four students (two graduate and two undergraduate) would be appointed to the task force. Despite claiming the university was looking for “a diverse group from across the university,” the call for applications specified that undergraduate applicants must have completed at least 30 credits and be in “good academic standing.”
On Feb. 1, the CSU held a press conference in their office on the seventh floor of the Hall building. During the conference, CSU student life coordinator Leyla Sutherland read from the union’s press release, claiming the task force procedures violated Quebec law by recruiting undergraduate students without the CSU’s involvement. She cited the “Act respecting the accreditation and financing of students’ associations,” a piece of provincial legislation that specifies student associations, such as the CSU, “may, alone, appoint students who […] are called upon to sit or participate as student representatives on various councils, committees or other bodies in the institution.”
“Beyond the cited legal concerns, this indifference in proper student representation shown by the university goes against both the spirit and letter of Bill 151,” said Sutherland. “It is imperative for students, and only students, to have a say as to who represents them.”
The press release also outlined a number of requests, including doubling the number of undergraduate students on the task force and ensuring representation from all faculties. Another request also asked that the requirement of good academic standing be removed.
Sophia Sahrane, the research and education coordinator for the student advocacy organization Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), also spoke out against the task force’s academic requirements at the press conference.
“[The academic requirements] demonstrate a deep lack of both understanding and compassion for the reality of living through the trauma of sexual assault and having to become a survivor,” Sahrane said. “How do you maintain a good academic standing when you have just been sexually assaulted? When you have had your agency taken away from you […] when your abuser is your professor?”
Also present at the press conference was Caitlin Salvino, the chair of the Our Turn committee, a student-led initiative aimed at ending campus sexual violence. Salvino claimed it is not uncommon for universities to exclude student unions and the students they represent when addressing sexual violence.
“Students and student unions across the country have been locked out of task forces, committees and being able to advocate for policies that are actually survivor-centric,” Salvino said.
On Feb. 2, another email related to the task force was circulated to all students. In this email, Carr wrote that the university had decided to allow the CSU to oversee the recruitment process of undergraduate task force members. The same day, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr told The Concordian the university would accede to the CSU executive request “because [its] overriding goal is to finalize, as soon as possible, the membership of the task force so it can begin to work.”
Sutherland pointed out that, while the university’s quick response to co-operate is a positive sign, the university has not met the union’s additional demands.
“We are very glad that the university is handing this process over to us as we have been requesting,” Sutherland said. “It is absolutely essential that student representatives be chosen by students and not by the administration, which presents a clear conflict of interest […] We will continue to advocate for four undergraduate students and the removal of the good academic standing criteria.”