Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities: Activism, Institutional Responses, and Strategies for Change

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9781771122832: Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities: Activism, Institutional Responses, and Strategies for Change

At least one in four women attending college or university will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. Beyond this staggering statistic, recent media coverage of “rape chants” at Saint Mary’s University, misogynistic Facebook posts from Dalhousie University’s dental school, and high-profile incidents of sexual violence at other Canadian universities point to a widespread culture of rape on university campuses and reveal universities’ failure to address sexual violence. As university administrations are called to task for their cover-ups and misguided responses, a national conversation has opened about the need to address this pressing social problem.

This book takes up the topic of sexual violence on campus and explores its causes and consequences as well as strategies for its elimination. Drawing together original case studies, empirical research, and theoretical writing from scholars and community and campus activists, this interdisciplinary collection charts the costs of campus sexual violence on students and university communities, the efficacy of existing university sexual assault policies and institutional responses, and historical and contemporary forms of activism associated with campus sexual violence.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Quinlan holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and an associate member in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Her program of research, defined by intersections of social health, gender relations, and caring labour, employs arts-based emancipatory methods to enhance the quality and dignity of participants’ lives.

Andrea Quinlan is an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo. Her research examines the intersections of law, science, technology, and medicine in legal responses to sexual violence, as well as the influence of feminist anti-violence movements on sexual assault policy, law, and institutional practice. Her forthcoming book is titled The Technoscientific Witness of Rape: Contentious Histories of Law, Feminism, and Forensic Science.

Curtis Fogel is an associate professor in the Department of Sport Management at Brock University. In 2016, he was appointed as a Research Fellow in Canadian Studies at University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Game-Day Gangsters: Crime and Deviance in Canadian Football (2013). His research interests include sports law, ethics, doping, and violence.

Gail Taylor is a family peer support coordinator, navigator, & facilitator trainer in Ottawa, Ontario.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities

INTRODUCTION: SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN THE IVORY TOWER

Elizabeth Quinlan

Several recent incidents of sexual violence on Canadian campuses have garnered considerable media coverage. The stories draw particular attention to the perniciousness of a rape culture on campus and the inadequacy of Canadian universities’ prevention and response to sexual violence.

During orientation week at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in the fall of 2013, senior students led several hundred first-year students in a chant that glorified nonconsensual sex with underage girls. A videotape of the cheer appearing on social media sparked outrage across the country. The president of the student union resigned the following day, declaring that the chant was the biggest mistake of his life while admitting that he, along with many others, had recited the chant every year since coming to the university. Shortly thereafter, the university announced the formation of a ten-member President’s Council, chaired by a Dalhousie professor in law and ethics, to make recommendations that would attempt to foster “cultural change that prevents sexual violence, and inspires respectful behaviour and a safe learning environment” (President’s Council, 2013, p. 16).

Within days of the uncovering of the Saint Mary’s chant, a similar cheer surfaced at the University of British Columbia (UBC), followed by a quick succession of reported sexual assaults on the UBC campus the next month. Students reported the chant had been used for 20 years. The story found ample purchase in the traditional media. In response, the university president struck the Task Force on Intersectional Gender-Based Violence and Aboriginal Stereotypes to develop “actionable recommendations” addressing the violence rendered visible by the revelations of the chant (University of British Columbia, 2014).

Later that fall, a Lakehead University student who had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student a year earlier went to the media with her story. After several unsuccessful attempts to lodge a formal complaint and arrange her classes to avoid the perpetrator, she was instructed to obtain written documentation of her “learning disability” from a campus doctor as the best way to avoid having to write her exams in the same room as the perpetrator. She told the media that she didn’t blame the university for the actions of her fellow student, but did hold it responsible for its injurious response to her requests for help. Soon after, the president formed a task force with a mandate to reduce or eliminate incidents of sexual assault and to ensure that when reporting, survivors would have access to counselling, assistance with medical care and academic concerns, and support in choices regarding reporting of the crime to law authorities. In particular, the task force was mandated to make recommendations regarding changes to the Code of Student Behaviour and Disciplinary Procedures, and the Employee Code of Conduct.

While the task forces at SMU, UBC, and Lakehead were developing recommendations to address sexual violence on their campuses, in early December 2014 a female dental student alerted the administration at Dalhousie University to the posts from a Facebook group of 13 male dental students, which promoted the use of sexual violence against their fellow female students. One particularly offensive post appeared on the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. Like the 14 engineering students killed at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, the female dental students were pursuing careers in a traditionally male preserve. The female dental student at Dalhousie who alerted the administration wanted to lodge a formal complaint, but was dissuaded from doing so in a meeting with the administrators. A week later, the media obtained screenshots of the offending posts from an unknown source. Public outrage ensued. An online petition pressing the university to expel the students garnered 1000 signatures in a single afternoon. By mid-January, the number of signatures shot up to 50,000. While the provincial government was announcing it would monitor the situation, alumni across the country were removing their diplomas from their office walls and professional dental associations in various provinces were requesting the names of the Facebook group members, a request that the university refused, arguing it would violate the students’ privacy. In early January, the 13 group members were suspended, only later to be offered alternative delivery formats for their courses so they could graduate on schedule. A number of fourth-year female students wrote an open letter to the president to convey their discomfort with the restorative justice process they felt pressured to accept in place of a formal complaint. The president of the university launched a task force in early January 2015.

As events at Dalhousie were continuing to solicit considerable media attention, in February 2014 a sexual assault was reported in Thunder Bay. The alleged perpetrators were two University of Ottawa (UofO) hockey team members. A criminal investigation was initiated. A month later, the female president of the university’s student union went public with an online discussion in which five male students directed violently misogynist comments toward her. The next day, the hockey team was suspended, and several months later the hockey coach was fired and the university president established a 15-member task force to provide recommendations on how to foster a culture that prevents sexual violence.

In the fall of 2015, UBC was in the news again, with several women alerting the media about the university’s delayed reaction to numerous complaints of sexual violence by a male doctoral student. UBC officials urged the complainants to pursue mediation and to keep quiet (Mayor, 2015). Later that year, coverage of the story by the CBC’s Fifth Estate brought an announcement from the university that the doctoral student had been expelled (“School of Secrets,” 2015).

The spring of 2016 brought a fresh round of campus sexual violence stories on the front pages of the national news outlets (Crabb, 2016). A student group at Brandon University revealed that the administration had required a student to sign a contract agreeing to not speak publicly about an assault, after she disclosed the incident to the university in September 2015. Failing to comply with the terms of the contract was to risk a range of disciplinary actions, including expulsion. Shortly after the initial media reports, eight more alleged survivors came forward, including the former student president, who was told by the senior administrator to whom she had reported sexual harassment by a faculty member that filing a formal complaint “isn’t going to be in your best interest ... you’re in a position of leadership, you’re a woman, this is something that happens to you and you just need to learn how to deal with it” (Macyshon, 2016). The university reply to the flood of media coverage included an announcement that, following the September 2015 incident, a task force had been established to examine services and supports (Crabb, 2016).

On the heels of the Brandon story, a Brock University student who was sexually harassed by a professor in the fall of 2015 went to the media to describe the university’s response to her complaint. During and following the university’s internal investigation of her complaint, the student was warned to keep quiet about the incident (Sawa, 2016). Within a month of the media story, another student came forward to the local newspaper with similar allegations of sexual harassment the previous year and the university’s mishandling of her complaint (Firth, 2016). The university president was quick to announce the establishment of the Human Rights Task Force, mandated to review all the campus policies and procedures related to sexual violence.

— excerpted from the introduction, Elizabeth Quinlan, in Sexual Violence at Canadian Universities

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