Mandatory training, intersectionality discussed at Senate meeting
Members of Concordia’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence presented changes to the university’s sexual violence policy at a Senate meeting on Feb. 15.
The policy aims to tackle sexual misconduct cases at the university level. The new policy must be implemented no later than Sept. 1, 2019 as part of the provincial Bill 151, an Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions.
Senate is the highest governing body at Concordia that makes decisions concerning academics, such as approving changes to courses and programs.
“The committee worked on making the language [of the revised sexual violence policy] more accessible and more survivor-victim focused,” said Mathilde Braems, a member of the standing committee, during the presentation. “The reasoning behind this was to make survivors and victims feel as supported as possible.”
As part of the new policy, mandatory consent trainings will begin at Concordia for all faculty, staff and students in September 2019. Lisa Ostiguy, the chair of the standing committee and special advisor to the provost on campus life, told The Concordian these will include both in-person and online trainings.
The online training will have multiple modules customized for either a student, staff or faculty member. “There will be all kinds of options because we recognize that not every format is going to suit everyone, but we are going to have to diversify how we are delivering training,” she said.
Ostiguy said the university is looking at how trainings can accommodate the larger Concordia community. She attended a conference on sexual assault training in Washington, D.C. in January with Jennifer Drummond, the coordinator at the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC). “We went to 42 different sessions […] to see what would fit with our university,” Ostiguy said.
In comparison to the revised policy, the newer version includes specific information on how to come forward with a complaint, while the previous version only stated that SARC is the main resource of support on campus.
The new policy also broadened its intersectionality section. This section “raises awareness that some of our communities are at greater risk, and we need to work harder to make sure we are removing barriers for those groups,” Ostiguy said.
Ostiguy said the staff and faculty trainings will help students from non-western cultures learn how to disclose incidents involving sexual violence. International students “may have barriers that make it very difficult to come forward and raise concerns,” she said.
In a recent CBC report, two former students who filed complaints about a year ago said the university never told them the professor they accused was acquitted last September after an in-depth investigation. Ostiguy and Concordia President Alan Shepard could not confirm if they did in fact inform the students in question that their cases had been closed due to provincial privacy laws.
Nonetheless, Ostiguy said the university “always informs the complainant of the process, and we always let them know when it’s finished.”
Ostiguy said the university follows a protocol for every sexual assault victim who discloses their situation. “Every time we launch an external investigation, we always sit down with the complainant and we explain what the process is, and that there is going to be difficulty at the end of the process because we can’t share the outcome of the process,” she said.“It’s frustrating for us, because we do take these situations very seriously,” Ostiguy said. “The university acts very appropriately and very carefully in these situations, and I wish we could talk about the outcome but we’re not able to. We can’t talk about any outcome with students, faculty or staff.”
Although the university’s policy against sexual violence relies on the Academic Code of Conduct and various collective agreements with faculty, Ostiguy said it is nevertheless considered a standalone policy. “Concordia created a standalone policy that brings together all of the resources, all of the processes, everything together,” she said.
Shepard said that one of the policy’s advantages is that it makes it easier for victims to disclose their experiences. “If you want to report on an incident, you can find it now, and historically, those kinds of policies were embedded in other policies so you really had to know what you were looking for to find it,” he said.
“I would say that we, as a university and as a network of Quebec universities and CEGEPs, will continue to work with the government in terms of the spirit of 151, which is to support survivors,” Ostiguy said.
With files from Ian Down.
Graphic by @spooky_soda.