Concordia Asks for Feedback on Combatting Sexual Violence on Campus

Community Has Until Nov. 24 to Comment

Concordians have until Nov. 24 to provide the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group with feedback. File Photo Brian Lapuz

Concordia is asking its community to provide feedback on the progress it has made into combatting sexual violence on campus since August 2015.

Until Nov. 24, Concordia students, faculty, and staff will have the chance to provide the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group, helmed by Deputy Provost Lisa Ostiguy, with their thoughts on the steps taken to address sexual violence on campus so far. The steps, which were based off the group’s recommendations, include:

“Opportunities for feedback are always great as they open up a conversation,” said Concordia Student Union’s Student Life Coordinator, Leyla Sutherland.

But she said that open calls such as these can be difficult, because there’s little way of knowing how the feedback will be processed.

“And the fact that it’s feedback on recommendations based on a review kind of has a lot of possible veils to see how that feedback is actually enacted, which is why I definitely encourage people to be vocal through those channels,” she continued.

She said feedback that she often hears applies to policy in general, not just to those pertaining to sexual violence.

“An issue with policy in general is trying to break it down, trying to understand how it applies specifically to someone as an individual,” Sutherland explained. The language it is written in to make it legally binding is often inaccessible and unusable “by people who need it,” she continued.

Mary-Jo Barr, Concordia’s spokesperson, explained in an e-mail however that the purpose of the feedback is “more a review of the action items that came out of the recommendations than a review of the policy itself.”

Concordia’s Failing Grade

While Barr says the university planned on calling for feedback from the beginning of its work on the topic, it happens to come one month after Concordia received a score of D- (or 52 per cent) from the national Our Turn Action Plan, developed by a consortium of 14 universities from across Canada with the goal of “[ending] sexual violence on campus.”

“An issue with policy in general is trying to break it down, trying to understand how it applies specifically to someone as an individual.” — Leyla Sutherland, CSU Student Life Coordinator

Concordia’s loss of points did not come from one particular section of the report, but from across the board. For example, deductions came from Concordia’s policy not acknowledging the existence of rape culture on campus, the university not explicitly offering survivors face-to-face protection after filing official complaints, and its stand-alone policy not meeting the group’s criteria.

“While Concordia does have a policy that does stand alone, it’s redirected through the Office of Rights and Responsibilities,” explained Sutherland, who represented Concordia in the creation of the action plan, in a previous interview. She said that as a result, the policy doesn’t meet Our Turn’s criteria of being “stand alone.”

Melodie Sullivan, Concordia’s senior legal counsel, also previously said that while some of these things, like offering face-to-face protection, are not explicitly written into the policy, they are widely practiced in the university.

In the past, Concordia president Alan Shepard has praised the university for its sexual violence policy, calling it “a leader in Quebec, and nationally, on this difficult topic.” He also suggested that the Quebec government’s proposed legislation on the same subject, which was tabled on Oct. 31, is modelled after the university’s.

More Student Involvement

Last week, Sutherland told CSU council that the university has formed a working group specifically tasked with reviewing the recommendations made by the Our Turn action plan. Sutherland and Fine Arts Councillor Mikaela Clark-Gardner will be the undergraduate representatives on the group.

“That is something that the university wanted to have students involved in, I think because this comes from students and obviously there was concern around […] the recommendations,” said Sutherland. “So student involvement was welcomed.”

Community members have until Nov. 24 to fill out the survey, available on Concordia’s website, or to email with their comments.