Concordia’s Sexual Violence Prevention Strategy Reflected in Provincial Policy

“New Twenty-Three Million Investment Not as Much as It Seems”: President Shepard

  • Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre will receive some money from the government’s new investment, but it’s not as much as it seems, says President Alan Shepard. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Sexual violence is a problem on university campuses.

As a result, on Aug. 21, Quebec’s ministry of higher education announced $23 million in funding for Quebec’s post-secondary institutions, dedicating themselves to tackling this issue over the next five years.

The funding came with an accompanying prevention policy, and a similar bill is expected to be tabled in the National Assembly this fall.

The provincial policy calls on all post-secondary institutions to adopt sexual violence prevention policies, provide academic accommodations for survivors, and establish what they call a “single window” service for survivors on campus, much like Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre.

“I’m proud of the fact that Concordia has been a leader in Quebec, and nationally, on this difficult topic,” said university President Alan Shepard.

He explained that the commonalities between Concordia’s existing policies and services, and the provincial document are the result of the university “offering the work we’ve done to the ministry as an example of what could be done.”

He mused that the ministry may have modelled the legislation after Concordia’s work on the issue, calling it a great endorsement for what the university is doing.

However, when broken down between all of the province’s CEGEPs and universities over five years, Shepard said the funding isn’t as grand as it seems.

“There will be some money coming to Concordia, I’m not going to complain about the money. But just to say, $23 million sounds like a lot, and when you divide it by 60, 70 institutions and divide it by [five] years, it’s not a gigantic sum,” he said.

He said the money will likely go towards “strengthening the work that SARC is doing.” He added that it could go on to fund campaigns, workshops, and posters, but they are still awaiting specific instructions from the provincial government.

Shepard confirmed that the money will not be used to hire an additional employee for the SARC.

The funding and policy announcement is the result of Quebec Higher Education Minister Hélène David’s provincial tour last spring, where she hosted four consultations with university administrators to discuss sexual violence on campus.

Concordia’s Response to Sexual Violence

Shortly after the Montreal consultation with the ministry, Concordia made waves of its own, amending the 34-page Code of Rights and Responsibilities for the first time in seven years. The Code dictates acceptable behaviour for all members of the Concordia community, including administrators, faculty, students, and support staff.

The intention behind these amendments, drafted by the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group, was “to communicate the university’s priorities to support victims,” said Melodie Sullivan, the university’s Senior Legal Counsel in August.

As a result, the Code becomes “a framework for responding to victims of sexual violence, providing accommodations and resources, and stating our principles about how we don’t tolerate that on campus,” Sullivan continued.

She also clarified that SARC and its coordinator, Jennifer Drummond, are the ones who manage those resources.

SARC is armed with a team of volunteers who counsel survivors and facilitate workshops. Along with Drummond, the centre has one paid employee, Ashley Allen, its service assistant who was hired last year.

SARC should be students’ first point of contact when it comes to disclosing an assault that took place on campus or with another student, Drummond explained.

With the adoption of the Sexual Violence Policy in May 2016, the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group aimed to streamline the disclosure process for survivors. They did so by adding a Sexual Assault Response Team, helmed by Drummond. This way, survivors do not have to repeat their traumatic experiences on multiple occasions.

“The benefit of the team has been so that the whole community is learning so that if they hear about a sexual assault or a situation, that they don’t have to do the [legwork]. Just call JD, who will coordinate the response,” said Lisa Ostiguy, the university’s deputy provost.

She explained that while the university’s policy targets sexual violence more specifically, “no other rule or procedure in the university can take away from the basic obligations of non-violence or civil behaviour,” meaning that the Code will always guide the university’s decisions.

She did say, however, that the amendments do ensure that the two documents are consistent in language.

Ostiguy and Drummond also stressed that above all, students should be aware of SARC’s services. Drummond said that this time of year, SARC coordinates workshops to prepare student groups, such as academic associations and sports teams, for the coming year. SARC’s lead facilitator Shayna Hadley will be hosting a consent workshop at The Link on Sept. 22.

Drummond invited interested members of the Concordia community to attend SARC’s open house on Sept. 14 from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. in H-645.

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