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CSU, GSA and TRAC withdraw from Concordia’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence

Three student organizations — the Concordia Student Union (CSU), the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), and the Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) union — announced their withdrawal from the University’s Policy Advisory Committee on sexual violence on Oct.5. 

During their press conference outside of the Hall building, student representatives announced their decision to no longer participate in Concordia’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence due to ignored demands and mishandled complaints. 

The committee is made up of students, staff, and faculty with the goal of raising awareness to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual violence on campus.

Alan Shepard, President of Concordia between 2012-19, announced the establishment of the task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence in Jan. 2018, following several harassment allegations within the University’s Creative Writing program. 

Since then, student representatives like Vice President of TRAC Becca Wilgosh have shared their disappointment in the lack of transparency and resources for students. 

“We’ve talked a couple of times about how complainants’ survivors in the University don’t even receive the results of their case, especially when that case is regarding faculty,” said Wilgosh. 

“And the University is more concerned with their reputation, especially when it comes to faculty than actually giving justice to students,” she added. 

Margot Berner, a past student representative in the standing committee, read the statement at last week’s press conference, describing Concordia’s policy processes as ‘hostile to students.’ 

Berner also explained that the required non-disclosure agreements to participate in the committee prove a lack of transparency towards student organizations. 

“Non-disclosure agreements work directly against our mandates of transparency, accountability, and accessibility to information,” read the statement. 

Another reason that was provided for the collective withdrawal was the lack of student representation. Only four of the 15 committee members are students, representing only slightly less than a third of the active student body. Berner also highlighted that the final authority on the sexual violence policy remains at the discretion of the Board of Governors. 

“With most decisions taken behind closed doors or through coercive consensus, the student representative positions in actuality remain simply observational rather than representative,” Berner added. 

During his speech, Nelson Graves, a TRAC delegate for the philosophy department, claimed the department has a history of sexual violence. 

Graves recalls an instance wherein two teaching assistants (TAs) were recently assigned to one individual who has allegedly perpetuated sexual violence amongst his female TAs. 

Additionally, Graves spoke about another situation in which an international student felt humiliated by the lack of awareness from the University about the sexual misconduct allegations.

“We’re working with TRAC Union to better expand our campaign, and we are interested to see how the University responds to this larger campaign,” concluded Graves.

Payton Mitchell, communications coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), was also present at the press conference. 

“Concordia’s sloppy process and refusal to approach problems with a student-centred and solution-oriented mindset have hindered accessibility to fully support our own membership,” said Mitchell. 

The CSU, GRA, TRAC and ASFA have no plans to return to the standing committee in the foreseeable future unless major changes regarding transparency are implemented. 

The three organizations will work closely together to raise awareness and support students who are mistreated. 

“We actually believe that we would do a better job of leading, beginning the discussions about what the sexual violence response should be in the University because we don’t have these institutional restraints that the University faces,” said Wilgosh.

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ConU’s inaction prompts students to protest

Students demand a standalone policy on sexual violence and misconduct

Many Concordia students are unhappy with the way the university has handled sexual misconduct complaints. So much so that students will be protesting this Friday in front of the administration building to demonstrate against Concordia’s inaction.

Gaby Novoa, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said it’s important to unite in support of survivors of sexual violence. “The administration has demonstrated that they are not interested in listening to students—we are protesting to make sure that our campaign for a survivor-centric policy is heard, and recognized as urgent and essential,” said Novoa.

According to Bill 151: An Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions, universities must have a standalone policy. Although Concordia has repeatedly said its current policy is a standalone one; it refers to the academic code of conduct and the various collective agreements and contracts with faculty regarding the appropriate procedures for filing and responding to a complaint.

“It’s really hard to read if you’re a survivor going through this process,” said Margot Berner, one of the demonstration’s organizers. The current policy, according to Berner, “really cements that gap between faculty and student because they are held to different standards and they have different protections under these policies.”

Although the university’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence has been holding community conversations to hear feedback from the students, Berner said they haven’t been heard. Students have even presented the committee with an extensive document outlining the issues they perceived in the current policy and how to mend them.

For Berner, the protest is a “response to the administration being very focused on PR and not really focused on making actual changes to their policy.” She added “there’s been no action, there’s been no assurances, there’s no concrete timeline we can hold them accountable to and it’s mostly been institutional gaslighting.”

The students are demanding a standalone policy on sexual violence, a concrete action plan with timelines to respond to student recommendations and that Concordia lobby the Quebec government to change its privacy laws.

Per Quebec’s privacy laws, educational institutions cannot reveal the result of an internal investigation to the public nor to the complainant. “As a university, they have a lot of power, and a lot of pull, and they have a lot of friends in government,” said Berner. “Even just making these demands public and working towards this step-by-step is something they can do.”

Berner said the university’s been dismissive of the students’ request at community conversation, going as far as changing the format of the community conversations. Instead of the initial back-and-forth conversations students were able to have, the sessions were changed to a presentation and a controlled question period. “If they are going to ignore our voices, we’re going to get a lot louder,” said Berner.

Diana Gerasimov, another organizer of the protest, said “I think we, as current students within the current sexual violence climate at Concordia, have a greater responsibility to persevere with our aim for policy changes to be seen as high-priority.”

Graphic by Ana Bilokin.

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Editorial: Concordia must be more clear

Concordia’s climate review of the English department has made headlines in every major Canadian news network since its release last week. Last week, one of our News Editors, Mia Anhoury wrote a piece outlining the lead-up to the review, its focus, some recommendations from the review, and comments from several people involved.

Some of the recommendations for professors include: making students more aware of the process for filing complaints, prohibiting classes in bars, clearer definitions and training about power dynamics in relationships, consent and conflicts of interest. Another recommendation is the requirement to disclose a conflict of interest in professors’ relationships with students, and clear consequences for failure to abide by it.

We at The Concordian encourage you to read the report for yourself. Many of the recommendations are focused on clarifying Concordia’s legislation around sexual misconduct and the process of voicing a complaint.

There are many takeaways from the report. Concordia has started many initiatives already, such as updating their sexual violence policy, and indeed they seem willing to comply with many of the recommendations.

One recurring goal was increased clarity; many students are unaware of the process of filing a complaint, and many don’t even know what situations qualify as a breach of university protocol. Clarity among the administration is also key, since many members claimed to be unaware of the toxic climate in the first place. Lisa Ostiguy, the head of Concordia’s standing committee on sexual misconduct and sexual violence, told The Concordian, “I’ve been actively involved in sexual violence and sexual misconduct files and processes, and I was not made aware [of fraternization between students and faculty].” Accountability between faculty members and accessibility to the complaint system will put more checks in place to prevent violent behaviour.

The report claimed “there is no place for any romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor and his or her student.” This is the kind of concrete, definitive language that we need surrounding this issue. Ostiguy acknowledged that “it’s very difficult to prohibit relationships between adults that are consenting.” We at The Concordian believe this is an issue that requires more clear, direct, and precise language. Being vague in the policy or when referring to it will only contribute to the difficulty of prohibiting toxic relationships.

Responses from the university thus far have not included an explicit apology to past or current students who were affected by abuses of power from several members of their institution. This includes Alan Shepherd’s recent response letter to the climate review, titled “Concordia welcomes the recommendations put forth in the Climate Review of the Department of English.”

In his response, Shepard mentions that the “unhealthy” climate that the report describes in the English department gives the university “cause [for] concern.” Immediately after, however, he mentions that many students have had a positive experience, that only a small percentage of faculty members were accused, and that most of the complaints came from alumni rather than current students. What are we supposed to make of these defences? It’s hard not to see this as an effort to save face.

Shepard’s letter goes on to highlight the ways Concordia has been investing in sexual assault resources, independently, he stresses, of the climate review. We do think that the letter is a useful way to discuss or promote resources for sexual assault. It is great that the university is working on developing new strategies, and it certainly needs to provide new resources to students as much as possible. But without the preface of an apology, it is easy to perceive the report in-part as an attempt to preserve the university’s reputation.

We at The Concordian want to see the university take responsibility for its employees by explicitly apologizing to its students, and demonstrate their sincerity by clearly defining their policy around student-professor relationships, the definition of ‘conflicts of interest’ and consequences for when that is breached. The complaint-filing process needs to be clear and accessible, and the university needs to make an active effort to investigate claims and enforce consequences for perpetrators.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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‘Unhealthy’ climate in the English department

Over 50 students and alumni say they have been invited for drinks by a teacher

The climate in the English department at Concordia has been described as unhealthy, according to a report by third-party investigators. The report, released last Thursday, was commissioned by the university in January to evaluate the climate of the working and learning environment in the department after sexual misconduct allegations came to light in January 2018.

The review was written by retired Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal Pierrette Rayle, Business Psychologist Alain Reid, and Organizational Psychologist François Rabbat. The findings are based on an online survey and interviews with people, including students, staff and faculty.

Students and alumni reported that faculty members have committed various forms of sexual violence, which are at the centre of the unhealthy climate in the department. “Certain faculty members have held some classes in bars, had parties at their houses, invited students for drinks […] or drugs. Some students reported that these situations have, on occasion, led to sexual misconduct being committed,” the report stated.

The report said there is a “whisper network” in the department, where incidents are only communicated among students. The network “underlines the lack of trust that certain students have in the university’s handling of these matters,” according to the report. Prohibiting the university from holding classes in bars is included in the recommendation.

Of the 89 students and alumni surveyed, 55 said they have been invited out for a drink by a faculty member, and 28 said they’ve been invited to dinner in a private or public setting. Thirty-eight said a faculty or staff member has engaged in behaviour aimed to stigmatize their identity, such as harrassment, threats and bullying.

Lisa Ostiguy, deputy to the chair on student life, said “we certainly don’t want to ban all opportunities” where students and professors meet off-campus. “But we do want to put some parameters or talk with the standing committee about what those opportunities should look like,” added Ostiguy.

The report also found there is a culture of favouritism towards students by some faculty. The report emphasizes that “there is no place for any romantic or sexual relationship between an instructor and his or her student,” despite the fact that Bill 151, an act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions, does not prohibit these relations.

Ostiguy said “the [English] department has already started on a number of the issues around favouritism and some recommendations well before the climate review [was] released.” When asked if the university was aware of the common fraternization between students and faculty in the department, Ostiguy said “I’ve been actively involved in sexual violence and sexual misconduct files and processes, and I was not made aware.”

There is a general mistrust and lack of understanding towards the university’s handling of complaints, according to the review. Most respondents disagreed with a series of statements about the efficiency of the process for consulting resources and the values promoted by the department. This mistrust, according to the review, is why students voice their concerns on social media rather than through official channels.

The report also calls for another climate review in two years. Ostiguy said “the recommendations are certainly things that the university can act on.” Among the recommendations are educational and prevention training for faculty, awareness campaigns, and a selection process for publications to avoid favouritism. The report suggested the university hire a contact person for complainants involved in ongoing investigations.

With files from Mina Mazumder.

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Professor acquitted after complaints of alleged sexual harassment

Concordia says it is in accordance with privacy laws

A Creative Writing professor in Concordia’s English department was cleared in September 2018 of the sexual harassment allegations filed by two former students, according to a recent report by CBC. The two former students, who filed the complaints in January 2018, reportedly learned of this exoneration through CBC two weeks ago.

Concordia University has still not confirmed if the professor was exonerated. University Spokesperson Fiona Downey said “we cannot divulge any information surrounding potential or actual investigations, including the results of any investigations or any other employment matters.”

The sexual assault allegations date back to events that happened at the university in the 1990s. The two former students’ complaints were filed around the same time that Mike Spry, a graduate from Concordia’s Creative Writing program, wrote a lengthy essay denouncing the toxic and misogynistic environment of the program.

Francis Bouchard, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education and Higher Education, Jean-François Roberge, told CBC it is “natural” to report results of an investigation to the person who filed the complaint. However, Downey said that Concordia contacted Quebec government officials and have been assured that they are complying with privacy and confidentiality legislation.

“We do understand this is particularly frustrating for the complainants who want to know the exact results, but this is the reality we face,” said Downey.

Downey said the university followed the guidelines established by the education department, which only requires them to inform complainants when an investigation has been completed. “I can tell you that you that we inform the complainants about the completion of an investigation,” said Downey. However, Concordia would not confirm if they did or did not inform the complainants in this case.

One of the complainants, Ibi Kaslik, a Toronto author, told CBC she tried getting updates on her complaints. Concordia would only tell her that the third-party investigator took the information presented to them and then the university reacted. Kaslik said she wanted to know about the outcome of the investigation, but kept hitting a wall.

Per the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal Information, no confidential information–including personal information–can be shared by a post-secondary institution to another person, including the person who filed the complaint. On the other hand, the institution can contact the plaintiff to see how they would like to move forward.

Downey said these practices are also reiterated in the university’s updated sexual violence policy. The university will release a climate review of the English department sometime in the winter semester. It is mandated to collect information from students, staff, faculty, and alumni about the culture and climate of the department through third-party experts.

Two English professors are still under a third-party investigation for unrelated sexual misconduct allegations as well, which were also filed at the same time last year.

In a statement to The Concordian, Downey said the Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence has been discussing with the university what could be implemented to provide further support for complainants. Downey added that the committee is also in the process of creating a step-by-step guide for complainants.

The university is currently in the process of implementing Bill 151, an Act to prevent and fight sexual violence in higher education institutions. The university has until Sept. 1, 2019 to fully implement the bill’s requirements. Additionally, the committee is planning on meeting with other post-secondary institutions in May, as it did in November 2018, to discuss the implementation of Bill 151.

Meanwhile, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence continues its community conversations. Undergraduate students are invited to the next community conversations, which will be on March 28 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Grey Nuns Building, and on May 24 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in PC 2.115.

Graphic by Loreanna Lastoria.

With Files from Candice Pye, Matthew Lapierre and Étienne Lajoie.

Photo by Mia Anhoury and Graphic by Loreanna Lastoria.

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Just because it’s a law, doesn’t mean it’s right

Last year, during a series of sexual misconduct allegations from within the Creative Writing department at Concordia, two students filed complaints against a professor, alleging that they were harassed in the 1990s. According to CBC News, this professor is still employed at the university and was exonerated by Concordia of all allegations in September 2018. According to the same source, one of the complainants, Ibi Kaslik, only learned of this through a reporter at CBC at the beginning of this month.

Over the past year, Kaslik tried to remain updated about the complaint and was told by Concordia Associate Vice-President for Human Resources, Carolina Willsher, last month that “the investigator collected the information, presented it to the university, and the university reacted […] That’s all I can tell you,” according to CBC News. The university has been citing privacy concerns as the reason behind their lack of transparency. The Concordian has learned that by not informing the complainants of the results of the investigation, Concordia is following privacy laws, specifically the A-2.1 Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information.

Essentially, in this type of case, no personal information can be shared by an educational institution––even to the person who filed the complaint in the first place. However, the institution is allowed to tell the complainants that the investigation ended. Concordia hasn’t confirmed if they did or did not inform Kaslik and the other complainant of the investigation’s closure. But considering that the complainants only learned of the professor’s exoneration through CBC News, it’s clear to us that the university didn’t inform them of this decision when it happened in September.

While we do acknowledge that Concordia is acting in accordance to privacy laws, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the university’s administration wasn’t as transparent as it could have been, especially in its communication with the complainants. These laws are not survivor-centric, as they restrict those who complain from taking part in the discussions and decisions that will ultimately affect their lives. These complainants should have a right to know what happens to those they complain about––and Concordia shouldn’t sit idly by and claim it’s just following protocol. We believe they should step forward and do something to change this situation. Not only will it show that they’re on the side of the victims, but it will also allow those who want to speak out feel supported.

Just because you’re following a law doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing. Even though Concordia has enlisted a Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence, created guidelines that discourage sexual relationships between educators and students, and conducted a climate review of the English department, its actions are half-hearted, and the administration’s words hold no value. We need to see concrete change taking place at Concordia. We need to see the university respect and uplift victims’ voices. We need to see this institution protect its students, rather than its abusive educators. Stringing together a few words that excuse Concordia’s actions in PR statements isn’t good enough.

We at The Concordian would also like to note that this is a similar tactic used in 1969, when six black students at Sir George Williams University accused professor Perry Anderson of racism. The university didn’t communicate to the students about how their complaint was being handled, and Concordia exonerated the professor after concluding that nothing could support the racism claims, according to Toronto Star. He later continued his academic career. Rodney John, one of the six students, told Toronto Star that Concordia’s failure to address such bias was at the base of the incident: “It was mishandled from beginning to end.”

Mishandled. A key word here. We at The Concordian hope that the fight against sexual assault, harassment, and injustice at Concordia doesn’t end with the recent exoneration of the professor. Concordia shouldn’t be patting itself on the back. Yes, you followed the law and were not required to divulge the details of what happened to the complainant. But you could have informed them of the end of the investigation, at the very least. As a powerful institution, you aren’t doing enough. We demand more.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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Louis C.K.’s return to comedy is too soon

Celebrities called out during #MeToo movement can’t make quick comebacks

Comedian Louis C.K. made an appearance on Aug. 26 at a New York comedy club with a 15-minute surprise set. This happened only nine months after he admitted to non-consensually masturbating in front of five women, as well as committing other sexual indecencies.

C.K.’s reappearance has struck a conversation surrounding the #MeToo movement and the countless male public figures who have been accused of sexual misconduct. The #MeToo movement is attempting to normalize the idea of listening to and believing women, in revolutionary and unprecedented ways.

In my opinion, if we accept C.K.’s surprise return, we are sending the message that he was merely in a “timeout.” A successful return would enforce the idea that C.K.’s position holds more importance than the women whose lives he permanently affected.

Don’t get me wrong—this has been a hard year for fallen heros. Some of these public figures had a strong presence in our lives. We were attached to these celebrities, and we held many of them very close to our hearts. That being said, being frustrated and disappointed by the changing perception of powerful male figures does not mean we should lose sight of what we are fighting for. Women didn’t ruin Louis C.K. for us—he ruined himself.

C.K.’s surprise comeback strategy is all too congruent with his disregard for consent. His forceful reappearance reinforced his perception of power. Any woman sitting in that comedy club, who listened to his set, heard him tell rape jokes and saw the standing ovation, was hit by a brick wall of evidence that C.K.’s career and reputation mean more to our society than a woman’s safety, experience, feelings, and agency. And he didn’t give them a choice.

Nine months ago, C.K. publicly admitted to his behaviour, while acknowledging his power and influence as a public figure in the comedy community. According to The New York Times, in C.K.’s apology, he said, “I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community.” If his apology held any ounce of integrity, then his return to comedy and his return as a public figure should have been approached with self-awareness and remorse. Instead, C.K. resorted to showing up unannounced, resuming his regular comedy shtick and making a rape joke. Classy.

Comedian Paul F. Tompkins was at the comedy club when C.K. performed. After the set, he told The New York Times that C.K. “made a career out of embracing the uncomfortable. Suddenly this is beyond his powers to tackle? Where is the evidence that he cares at all to redeem himself? That he understands what he did was wrong? That he has learned anything? That he has tried to pay for his abuses with more than an enforced vacation?”

As a society, we are still wrestling with the repercussions of C.K.’s behaviour as well as the many other allegations against countless men. Where do these men go from here? We may not have a direct answer yet, but we can assure you, Louis C.K., this was not it.

C.K. finished his original apology by saying, “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.” Who knew that “a long time” actually meant just nine months? There are many public figures stepping up and handling this social climate with grace and bravery, and for once, those are the voices we need to be listening to. We must remember that this movement is about women and the survivors of sexual assault.

Writer and comedian Hannah Gadsby may have said it best: “These men control our stories, and yet, they have a diminishing connection to their own humanity, and we don’t seem to mind so long as they get to hold onto their precious reputation.” C.K. has no right to reclaim his reputation after his disgraceful behaviour. So if anyone is ready to listen and laugh along with Louis C.K. today, they need some serious introspection.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

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Keep Concordia in mind this summer

It’s the end of another great year at The Concordian. While we’re sad to say goodbye, we thought we could dedicate this final editorial to the important issues that have been discussed on campus throughout the year.

We know how easy (and satisfying) it is to finally leave exam halls, submit final assignments and close the doors on Concordia at the end of each semester. It’s an exhilarating feeling to embark on our summer vacations, whether they consist of binge-watching Netflix or travelling the world. But, we at The Concordian think it’s vital to keep some things in mind even while we step away from our university this summer.

This year was…eventful, to say the least. We’re proud to have covered and highlighted important issues in our newspaper, from the significance of sustainable foods, to Concordia’s ways of handling sexual misconduct allegations. We think it’s important to leave you with a few key issues to keep in mind while away from Concordia.

First, the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence will be taking place until May 2018. These allegations regarding Concordia’s creative writing department were significant in raising awareness about sexual misconduct at our university. It highlighted how power abuses can lead to dangerous environments for students. Ultimately, it opened our eyes to how Concordia can sometimes fail at addressing such allegations in the first place.

Although we won’t be surrounded by the news every day this summer, it’s still important to check up on the Task Force’s progress addressing sexual misconduct at our institution. It’s our responsibility, not only as students, but as citizens, to remain aware and engaged in these issues at our university. While we commend Concordia students for speaking out against sexual violence and shedding light on this issue throughout the year, we hope students can continue to talk about sexual assault every day—since, unfortunately, it happens quite frequently.

We also hope Concordia students remain interested in the Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) Daycare and Nursery Project. Although it was initially proposed in 2011, and has experienced many setbacks such as obtaining construction permits, we at The Concordian are still keeping an eye out for the project’s final establishment. According to a 2017 article by The Concordian, the daycare was supposed to open in March 2018. As we’re already into the month of April, it’s clear to see the project is still experiencing difficulties and obstacles.

The daycare would be an outstanding achievement by the CSU, and more importantly, it would help student-parents feel more supported by the school. According to a study commissioned by Concordia in 2011, student-parents comprise about 10 per cent of our university’s population. That 10 per cent of students are more likely to feel stressed by missing classes and exams and handing assignments in late because of their responsibilities as parents. This is all due to the university’s lack of safe and affordable childcare options, which is why CSU’s daycare project is so important.

We at The Concordian hope that this daycare can be established in the upcoming months. We hope students can continue to talk about this project, support it and help actualize it. It would be extremely beneficial for so many student-parents, and it will be a positive addition to our school.

There are many important discussions and projects happening at Concordia. Throughout the year, we saw students speaking out against unpaid internships, the importance of voting and environmental abuses. One such group highlighting environmental abuses is Divest Concordia, an initiative that calls on our university to end its investments in fossil fuels. The group has called on the university to make a decision on divestment and to announce whether or not they will be taking concrete steps towards more environmentally-friendly investing. Unfortunately, however, Concordia has been postponing the announcement—and still has yet to comment on its divestment. We believe that even though Concordia hasn’t made an announcement yet, we cannot forget about Divest Concordia and its important stance. We need to support such groups and initiatives in order to better our time at Concordia, and to contribute positively to our world.

So this summer, keep the conversation going. Keep speaking out against sexual assault; keep shedding light on racism and discrimination; keep supporting groups pushing for a better university; remind yourself to check up on Concordia’s steps in building a better environment for students. We know how easy it is to say goodbye, but we at The Concordian hope you choose to keep our university in mind this summer.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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A conversation with Alan Shepard

Article written by Étienne Lajoie and Matthew Lapierre

Concordia president talks funding, pension plans and sexual misconduct

Concordia president Alan Shepard sat down with The Concordian on Monday, April 9 to answer questions about government funding, library employee pension plans and the university’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Q: In its 2017 budget, the federal government invested $117.6 million to launch the Canada 150 Research Chairs competition to “boost Canada’s brain gain.” Twenty-four chairs previously working in the United States were brought in. Has or will Concordia benefit in any way from this funding program?

A: We did apply for that grant; we didn’t get it, but we got others. One would be the Canada Excellence Research Chair program. There were 11 chairs given out to nine institutions. We were one of the nine universities, so that comes with $10 million in funding.

Q: How does that work? Do you receive funding and then reach out to researchers?

A: These processes are very complicated and highly audited. We have the opportunity to hire a chair. We have to identify that person, they have to be vetted and ratified by an internal committee at Concordia, then it goes to the federal government for further ratification. The person you are proposing has to be a strong international player. Then, if that’s all accepted, the person arrives and you get the funding over a number of years.

Q: There seems to be a disagreement between the university and the Concordia University Library Employees’ Union concerning pay cuts that the library employees have had to take. Both agree there’s more money going to the pension plan. Does the university intend on sitting down with the union to solve this apparent conflict?

A: We are in a period of negotiations with many unions. The government, two years ago, adopted pension reform legislation for our sector. What had been happening is Concordia had been paying 80 per cent of the pension contribution, and the employees paid about 20 per cent. And as it happened with public sector employees, the government had a desire to make it either 50/50, or 55/45, where the institution pays 55 per cent and the employee pays 45 per cent. Those were the parameters.

When you go from contributing 20 per cent to 45 per cent of your salary to the pension plan, that’s noticeable. We did a lot of preparation over a year and half to get people to understand that. We’re in negotiations, and we’re mindful that employees have had to pay more.

Q: The Concordian obtained a statement written by Emma Moss Brender, the department of philosophy’s chair assistant, regarding allegations of sexual harassment in the department. Would you like to comment on these allegations?

A: We feel like the university has been proactive with these files. Since I arrived at Concordia, my team and I have been working in a proactive way to make sure the environment we have is safe, respectful and appropriate. When we have allegations, we investigate them. If the investigation shows some kind of sanction is warranted, we don’t shy away from that. I do think over the last seven years every university has had cases where lines have been crossed. I do think the cultural milieu has changed from even when I began my career.

Q: Concordia provost Graham Carr was part of a delegation of university executives who visited Switzerland’s post-secondary institutions from March 25 to 29. Can you tell us why Carr was part of this delegation, and how Concordia will benefit from this?

A: Quality Network for Universities is a national organization, and it tries to provide professional development opportunities for senior leaders of universities. One of my criticisms of the Canadian higher education system is sometimes that it operates in a bit of a bubble. Switzerland is one of the most innovating countries [in higher education], so we’re always trying to figure out how we can either emulate or borrow ideas from other jurisdictions.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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Professor Jennifer Doyle addresses sexual misconduct policies during talk at Concordia

University of California, Riverside professor talks pros and cons of post-secondary policy frameworks

Queer feminist theorist Jennifer Doyle spoke at a conference hosted at Concordia on March 20. “Harassment and the Unraveling of the Queer Commons” discussed the current climate for queer feminist theorists and the interplay between individuals who report sexual harassment and the power dynamics of post-secondary institutions.

Doyle, an English professor from the University of California, Riverside, has long been interested in the handling of sexual harassment cases within educational institutions. As the daughter of a feminist activist, when she was young, Doyle attended local National Organization for Women chapter meetings where women strategized and compiled Title XI lawsuits.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Title XI “protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs” in 16,500 school districts and 7,000 post-secondary institutions in the United States. Traditionally, Title XI lawsuits created change on a case-by-case basis, Doyle explained. However, she said that in the last five years, there has been a “wave of activism,” partly consisting of more individuals going to the press or other public avenues, such as personal blogs, to share their stories. “That story is not going to come out any other way,” Doyle said.

However, sharing personal stories with news media outlets often comes as a double-edged sword, Doyle argued, since the publicity that results from the article is almost never in the best interest of the community impacted by the sexual harassment.

“The comments section of that [article becomes] a gutter,” Doyle said, where individual experiences are publicly contested. Those comments sections tend to become a site for further sexual harassment, she added.

Doyle explained that post-secondary institutions need to improve the way they try to help those who come forward navigate the public attention they receive during an ongoing investigation. She described her experience as a faculty member when handling cases of sexual harassment made by students as being “part of a machine.” She added there is typically little commitment to the well-being of individuals who report cases of sexual misconduct.

On the one hand, while Doyle criticized the tendency of discussions surrounding policy reform to frame “sexual harassment [as] happening because there [is] a policy failure,” she nonetheless recognized the important role those policies play.

Doyle also emphasized that, while post-secondary institutions as a whole are limited in how they can publicly respond to sexual harassment cases, individual faculty departments have more liberty with issuing public statements, particularly when it comes to supporting those who come forward with their stories.

“What a [department] can do is […] put its weight behind the victims and say, ‘We are grateful to these women who are coming forward and sharing their stories,’” Doyle said, specifically referencing what the astronomy department at the University of California, Berkeley, did during the investigation of professor Geoff Marcy.

The faculty members of the astronomy department collectively agreed to publish a letter on the department’s website, stating they “fully support the survivors of harassment […] and reject any suggestion that [their] sympathies should be with the perpetrators of sexual harassment.”

“I don’t think the [department] needs to wait to say that,” Doyle said. “You can communicate a lot of support for victims without actually getting into details about the case.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

Categories
News

Students discuss proposals for policy changes

Article written by Matthew Coyte and Megan Hunt

Concordia students and department association representatives voiced their thoughts on potential sexual misconduct policy changes at a student congress hosted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) on Feb. 28. At the end of the night, attendees voted on which demands would be included in a proposal the CSU will present to the university’s administration.

Following the congress, Leyla Sutherland, the CSU student life coordinator, said that despite the discussion not taking place in an official student union setting, the approved proposals will have a real impact and will be presented to the administration “very soon.”

“When the details are plugged into these proposals, they will be very effective ways of addressing and hopefully combating campus sexual violence,” Sutherland said. “I didn’t know what was going to come from [the congress]. I’m happy to have so many proposals to dig my teeth into.”

The congress took place in the downtown Webster Library lobby. The chairs that had been set up were quickly filled, and many attendees had to stand. Audience members candidly discussed their concerns about sexual misconduct at Concordia, as well as the administration’s response to the allegations plaguing the creative writing program.

A recurring concern was the lack of mandatory training on issues such as consent, power dynamics, sensitivity and disclosure. Although Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) offers consent workshops, students and staff are not required to attend. SARC did not have a representative at the congress.

Following a lengthy discussion, which saw the proposal go through multiple iterations, the congress attendees voted on a demand for the university to fully fund mandatory consent training for all students, staff and faculty within a reasonable time frame. The demand received unanimous approval from attendees, meaning it will be fully endorsed by the CSU and included in their proposal to the administration.

The congress attendees also voted to approve a demand for the university to accept all the policy recommendations made by Our Turn, an organization that works with student associations across Canada to prevent sexual violence. These recommendations include developing and adopting peer-to-peer sexual violence prevention and training. Another proposal included lifting the current rule that all applicants to the university’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence fulfill the vague requirement of “good academic standing.”

Concordia students gather to discuss policy changes at student congress. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

One of the many student associations present at the congress was the Concordia Association for Students in English (CASE).

“I think it was important for CASE to participate because, obviously, a lot of the attention has been surrounding cases that are specific to the English department, even though it’s happening in various places at Concordia,” said CASE president Debby Gemme. “This particular executive team is committed to helping fix these issues […] and I think this went really, really well.”

A Concordia student employed by the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre (MSAC) said they wanted to participate in the congress after receiving a spike in calls to the centre from Concordia students and others following the #MeToo movement.

“It has come to our attention that there’s a problem with the Concordia administration and how it addresses complaints,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous. “I’m hoping that numbers have power, and it’s going to put enough pressure on the administration to give us more leeway or liberty in defining these new policies that work better to address students’ rights.”

The congress was attended by numerous student politicians, including councillors, Senate and executives members. Jonathan Roy, the president of the Arts and Science Federation Associations (ASFA), also attended the meeting. He said he is happy to be able to present these proposals to ASFA members, as well as to the Senate of which he is also a member.

“These are very acceptable, realistic requests. We want to feel safe in our own school; that’s not a wild thing to ask for,” Roy said. “We need to take action and hold the administration accountable.”

Despite the congress being open to faculty, only one professor showed up to voice her opinion. Kate Bligh is a part-time faculty member in the School of Irish Studies, as well as the theatre and English departments. She shared input that helped the congress shape their proposal, including insight that the university could not legally force part-time staff to undergo this training, as it would violate their contracts. All training at the part-time level would have to be voluntary. She also suggested the congress add these proposals under the health and safety regulations already in place, which the congress did.

Bligh said that, in her 20 years of teaching, she has never been called to attend any training like the kind the CSU is hoping to implement.

“The same way that we hold discrimination and violence to this standard, we have to do the same with sexual assault and violence,” Bligh said. “We need to decide what sort of culture our school should have.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad

Categories
Opinions

Saving face shouldn’t be Concordia’s priority

When classes resumed following the winter break, the Concordia community was greeted by widely publicized allegations of sexual misconduct by instructors in the university’s creative writing program. These accusations came as a shock to some, but for many current and former English department students, they were simply a long-overdue acknowledgment of an “open secret.”

As was reported in the weeks that followed, the behaviour of certain teachers and the overall toxic, misogynistic environment of the creative writing program was not only common knowledge among many English department students—it had been publicly written about before. Former student Emma Healey published a personal essay online about her abusive relationship with an instructor years ago, and several students brought their concerns directly to the department in 2015.

Although it took the words of a male alumnus, Mike Spry, to finally catch the attention of the news media and the university’s administration, we at The Concordian are glad to see that, two months later, this problem has not been swept under the rug. An investigation into the allegations is underway. Two creative writing teachers have been suspended, and a task force is being assembled to review the university’s policies for preventing and dealing with sexual misconduct and sexual violence.

On Feb. 28, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) hosted a student congress to gather input about policy changes regarding sexual misconduct on campus directly from the student body. According to Leyla Sutherland, the CSU’s student life coordinator, these suggestions will be integrated into a proposal the union will present to the university’s administration.

One of the most prominent proposals for the task force discussed during the student congress was the implementation of university-funded, mandatory consent and power-dynamics training for all students, staff and faculty members. We at The Concordian strongly support this demand. The university should be a safe space for students to learn, flourish and achieve their academic goals. Staff and faculty members should support and empower student success, not hinder or threaten it.

Over the last few years, the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) and the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association (CASAJMSB) have implemented mandatory consent training workshops for all of their frosh attendees. Ensuring student safety at frosh is vital, but sexual violence on campus is not limited to that first week of socializing and drinking. The Sexual Assault Resource Centre has also held consent workshops for Stingers teams and first-year students living in residence. It is long-overdue that Concordia’s administration follow the lead of its student associations and ensure its entire community is informed and protected throughout the year.

During the student congress, many students also voiced their anger about the way the university has handled sexual misconduct allegations in the past, claiming such incidents had been covered-up to protect Concordia’s reputation. This is why we at The Concordian believe university-implemented consent training should come with an acknowledgement by Concordia of its shortcomings.

Throughout their university degree, most students will hear at least one professor reiterate a variation of Socrates’s statement: “All I know is that I know nothing.” These words are meant to remind students that, in order to learn, one must first set aside their ego and admit they are ignorant.

As an educational institution, Concordia should also be willing to learn—and this begins by admitting mistakes and ignorance. Doing so would represent a commitment by the university to prioritize long-term, concrete change over its short-term public relations goals. Doing so would be a first step in rebuilding confidence in the university’s ability to protect its students and prioritize their well-being.

Although there is still a lot of work to be done, we at The Concordian believe there is reason to hope for substantial, positive change. But we would like to remind Concordia’s administration why this change did not come sooner. When students spoke up, the administration did not listen.

So, to the university’s administration: please turn to page two of this newspaper and read our coverage of the CSU student congress. The students are speaking; are you listening?

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