English Department Climate Review Open About Faculty Sexual Violence

Report Reveals Distrust Between Students and University

“The Mistrust described could explain why students go on social media to voice their concerns instead of using official channels,” the report said. File Photo Brian Lapuz

In a new report looking at the climate in Concordia’s English department, students and alumni reported on going sexual violence and harassment on the part of faculty.

“There appears to be a solidly rooted whisper network at work in the Department of English where past and recent incidents are discussed between students and communicated to new students,” the report read.

Survey respondents mentioned there’s a lack of trust in university’s process for handling sexual misconduct complaints and described the department as a discriminatory and hostile environment.

“[The] mistrust described […] could explain why students go on social media to voice their concerns instead of using official channels,” the report continued.

Between April 2018 and September 2018, a survey dedicated to understanding the climate of the English Department was provided to students, faculty, and staff in the department.

Over 100 people contributed to the survey, which included three staff, 17 faculty members, 32 students, and 57 alumni. 72.5 per cent of respondents were women, and just over 9 per cent of respondents were non-binary, transgender or didn’t mention their gender.

Respondents were open about how the department facilitated unhealthy power-dynamics between students and faculty.

Last January Concordia President Alan Shepard had to call an emergency press conference to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct out of Concordia’s creative writing program. File Photo Brain Lapuz

Last January, Concordia President Alan Shepard announced the university would be taking several steps amid a number of allegations of sexual misconduct at the university, particularly within the creative writing program.

The third-party review was carried out by retired Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Pierrette Rayle, in collaboration with business psychologist Alain Reid and organizational psychologist Francois Rabbat.

Discriminatory and Hostile Environment

The report concluded that some professors in the department have difficulty managing discussions surrounding sensitive issues.

Students who participated described how faculty at times exhibited inappropriate behaviours in the classroom.“There is a continuum of misconduct with varying degrees of intensity ranging from disrespectful comments to sexual violence,” explained the report.

The behaviour was described by students as insensitive and discriminatory, with faculty using racist or marginalizing language. Many also said they didn’t feel listened to during lectures.

The report also showed this type of behaviour extended outside the classroom.

Students reported that faculty members held some classes in bars, where they invited students for drinks. Students said at times they were encouraged to drink or do drugs, and were invited to private parties at professors homes. Some students even reported these situations occasionally led to acts of sexual misconduct.

The report mentioned that currently there are no guidelines detailing what conditions a class should look like when it’s held outside campus.

Relationships With Professors

Respondents said some faculty members were flirtatious towards students. Students said faculty used their position of power to get away with unwanted remarks, and that students often felt pressured to not complain out of fear it would impact their grades or careers.

In fact, some alumni reported having been offered a successful career in exchange for sexual favours.

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Since student and faculty relationships aren’t banned outright, respondents said there’s a perception that students who offer favours to professors benefit the most, whether it be academically or in their profession.

Although the school considered prohibiting romantic or sexual relationships between instructors and students, Shepard said in a previous interview that universities hands are tied since federal law maintains these kinds of romantic relationships can’t be banned.

A Culture of Mistrust

The report also found students generally had a lack of trust towards the university, especially when it came to keeping them informed about the outcome of a complaint.

Currently, universities have confidentiality and privacy obligations that prevent them from reporting the results of investigations to students who bring forward complaints against professors.

“We can appreciate why a complainant would want to have this information when they have experienced wrongdoing,” the report wrote.

Moreover, students reported fearing repercussions from filing complaints against faculty members. “These fears are exacerbated by the power imbalance and the impact that faculty members can have over a student’s academic or professional career,” the report read.

The review provided 13 recommendations on how to better Concordia’s response and actions towards sexual violence.

Propositions include training faculty and staff on what constitutes a romantic or sexual relationship, banning classes in bars, and making applications for professional opportunities more accessible to prevent favouritism and abuses of power.

It also recommended an additional climate review with the next two years, and workshops to discuss campus sexual violence with the department’s faculty and staff.