It Takes All of Us Online Consent Training Faces Backlash

A Look Into Concordia’s Online Consent Training

  • Graphic Sheida Shamloo

Concordia University is dedicated to a learning and working environment, that’s free of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual violence,” says a solemn looking Interim President Graham Carr in the introductory video to “It takes all of us.”

Late last month Concordia announced the launch of its new sexual violence awareness and prevention training, titled “It takes all of us”—despite having been involved in sexual misconduct mismanagement scandals over the last two years.

Professors in the English and philosophy departments had been accused of sexual misconduct, and the university refused to disclose the findings of the complaints as per Quebec’s privacy legislations.

This sparked student protests, like the one on April 12 demanding a stand alone policy.

Something akin to a well designed powerpoint, with bright graphics, powerful facts—like how incidences of sexual violence are more likely to occur during the first eight weeks of the semester—and questions to engage participants, “It takes all of us,” takes the user through four key sections.

From defining sexual violence and consent, to learning how to intervene as a bystander and support survivors, “It takes all of us,” is designed to to educate Concordia students, staff, and faculty on campus sexual violence.

Accessible from an email sent out to Concordia students, staff, and faculty earlier this month, or by logging on to MyConcordia, “It takes all of us” is a mandatory program to be completed by everyone in the university before Oct. 4.

Students who have not completed the training by this date will have a hold placed on their winter registration, while faculty or staff who fail to complete the training will be addressed through their respective collective agreement or employment policies.

Depending on these, consequences may range from a letter of reprimand, suspension, to potential dismissal.

The training was developed by for-profit eLearning platform KnowledgeOne and Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre, in consultation with the Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence.

The standing committee was formed in 2018 with the goal of addressing and implementing the University’s obligations under Bill 151, a legislation passed in 2017, mandating post-secondary institutions in the province to improve and implement new sexual violence policies.

Part of this process included implementing sexual violence awareness and prevention training.

“It takes all of us,” which offers members of the Concordia community the option to take the training either online or in person was implemented on Aug. 15.

“We’ve been working on [the training] for years,” said Lisa Ostiguy, special advisor to the provost at Concordia.

Ostiguy sits as the chair of the Standing Committee, which has been working on the training for Bill 151 for the past year.

“Concordia’s actually been working on training since 2013. So this is more like an expansion of what we’ve already been doing,” she added.

The training was developed with student focus groups and a training sub-committee, composed of both undergrad and graduate students, according to Ostiguy.

Ahead of time, a survey had been published by the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence that “had indicated what students were looking for in a training,” she said.

Implemented in 2013, SARC has been handling sexual violence on campus since its’ conception and providing in-person sexual violence training since 2015.

Before 2016, the centre relied on its only full-time staff member, Jennifer Drummond, to handle claims of sexual assault and lead the training.

“I think it’s a really positive thing that everyone on campus is going to have more awareness of the issue, resources, increased knowledge, and a shared language which can lead to more in-depth conversations about a topic that is quite challenging to talk about,” said Drummond.

Students, staff, and faculty need to know how to intervene if they see something happen, Drummond explained.

She stated it is important for them to know how to respond to disclosure, know what resources there are, and what sexual violence consists of, so they can identify a situation that has the potential of escalating

Now with two full-time staff members, Drummond said another full-time facilitator will be hired to carry out requested in-person trainings, though Ostiguy said the in-person trainings have not filled up.

“Thinking about how our population at Concordia is [about] 50,000 people, that doesn’t lend itself well to in-person training,” she continued.

Backlash against online training

“[With] online trainings, you can’t really monitor who’s not paying attention or just clicking random boxes, or rolling their eyes and joking with their friends while they’re doing this,” said Margot Berner, a student on the standing committee and active on the standing committee for Sexual Misconduct.

“People have begged [the university] to have in-person training and they just don’t particularly want to put the resources into it. You can see how few people are working at the SARC offices,” she continued.

Online training makes it far easier to get around actually completing it.

On Concordia’s subreddit, students have been discussing ways to use certain features of the training to skip through segments, absolving its use and importance.

“I have always been very concerned with the idea that the training that they’re offering is online,” added Sophie Hough-Martin, a recent graduate and former general coordinator at the Concordia Student Union.

“Especially when there was a study done in 2018 with hospital staff in emergency departments responding to sexual violence, which showed empirically that in-person consent and sexual violence training was more effective than online training for this specific topic.”

When she brought this up to the administration, she was waved off and assured that online training was just as effective.

Though Bill 151 states that students must be involved in the process of creating a sexual awareness training, Hough-Martin wishes that the Bill stipulated what that meant.

Hough-Martin sat on the standing committee last year, where they met only three times throughout the year to discuss the training.

“There wasn’t even really a meaningful opportunity for students to participate in the creation of that training,” she said.

“I think Concordia is not alone in the fact that for a lot of their sexual violence policy and sexual violence approaches, they consult students by having us in the room, but they don’t meaningfully engage with our input,” she added.

“I think Concordia is not alone in the fact that for a lot of their sexual violence policy and sexual violence aproaches, they consult students by having us in the room, but they don’t meaningfully engage without input.”

Sophie Hough-Martin

Ostiguy said she thinks “it’s unfortunate that people are finding ways to go through the training quicker, because it’s important that everyone who’s able to do it is able to go through the training.”

Begging for a change of policy

According to Bill 151, secondary educational institutions in Quebec must implement a stand-alone, survivor-centric, sexual violence policy, one “where the complaint procedure for complaints of sexual violence is separate from a student code-of-conduct or any other policy,” explained Hough-Martin.

A policy on sexual violence has been in place in Concordia since 2016. Updates of the policy were approved in December 2018 to fit the mandate, and have been implemented as of this September.

“We changed some of the language [and] added info to clarify the process of what to do in situations of sexual violence,” said Ostiguy.

She says they also elaborated more on the sexual assault response team.

She added that a document that further clarifies the processes and procedures under the code of conduct and sexual violence policy—including the disclosure and complaint processes—would soon be released.

Some students worry that not enough is being done for the actual policy.

Many feel that a lack of systematic change overrides the university’s attempt at a training.

Though the policy has been updated to include more intersectional language, “the complaint mechanism and the ways that you, as a survivor, were to pursue an internal justice process, are exactly the same,” said Hough-Martin.

Last April, students rallied against Concordia’s inaction towards sexual violence.

Around 100 students met outside Concordia’s doors to protest the university’s lack of an action plan that would address recommendations students had shared in meetings.

Following the 2017 Our Turn report, a national student-led movement that works to address and end campus sexual violence, reviewed Concordia’s policy against sexual violence.

Rated under five sections, including but not limited to topics such as “formal and informal complaint process” and “composition of the review committee or decision makers,” Concordia received a D-, the lowest grade of all 14 schools who’s student unions had signed on to the action plan.

Last year, Hough-Martin went through the rubric herself, to see if Concordia had improved.

It hadn’t.

“We increased in certain areas, but overall, out policy is still exactly where it was two years ago when Our Turn came out,” she said.

Concordia is still one of the only schools in the province “that refuses to inform students whether their complaint of sexual violence against a professor is considered founded or not,” according to a tweet posted by the National Observer.

“I don’t think an institution that holds up a hegemony at the end of the day is right for advocating individuals,” said Annika Horsford, president of the Concordia Association for Students in English.

“I feel like it’s not going to be done for the sake of the individual, or of the students, but for how the school looks.”

Following last year’s slew of sexual misconduct allegations, Horsford just wants people in their community to feel safe.

They state that CASE is more community minded, focussing on person-to-person interactions rather than policies that “don’t always work,” they said.

Sharing the training

Concordia announced on Aug. 21, 2019 that it would be sharing its training on sexual violence awareness with educational institutions across Quebec, “and beyond,” reads the announcement.

The vast majority of schools across Quebec are using Concordia’s training as their mandatory training, with minor adjustments to reflect their realities, according to Ostiguy.

“We should all be collectively trying to work on this together,” she continued. “We have a network of universities and CEGEPs that we work with, and we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to share our resources.”

Berner stated that she feels the sharing and promoting of the KnowledgeOne training is a “victory tour.” She says it seems as if the university is simply trying to get rid of bad press, ”without actually dealing with the systemic problems.”

“I feel like it’s kind of odd that they should be proud of this considering there were protests on the streets from students who were so unhappy with the way they handled complaints of sexual violence,” Berner said.

“They’re really doing the very bare minimum and it’s more and more obvious that anything they have done has been for the purpose of publicity.”

“It’s really just brutal, the clarity that it gives about where Concordia’s priorities are,” she continued.

The undergraduate student believes that listening to survivors and other students is “just not a priority for them.”

She reiterates the fact that SARC has only two full-time employees to support a student body of nearly 47,000.

Berner said she feels one of the problems with this approach to sexual violence training where it comes from the top-down is that a lot of sexual violence is bred within these hierarchies.

When someone has so much power over those who are afraid to complain, it’s easy for bad things to happen to people, and predators can gravitate to these positions, she explained.

With information often confined within departments, those outside them won’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.

“I understand that a lot of things are kept insular, and a lot of people don’t talk to each other, but it sucks.

Cause it feels like you’re going through it alone, and you’re really not,” Horsford said.

“At the end of the day, even though these things are being implemented, it’s because we had to beg for them,” they added.

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