New Sexual Assault Workshops for Stingers Athletes

Concordia’s Athletics Program Teams Up with SARC

Photo Jonathan Cook

During orientation last fall, the Stingers football team attended a presentation by Jennifer Drummond, the coordinator of Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre.

Her talk to the all-male group included information about consent, sexual assault and bystander intervention—topics which are core to the SARC’s goal of preventing sexual violence and harassment.
At one point during the presentation, an athlete joked about being raped by a girl, prompting laughter from many in the room. Not wanting to alienate her group, Drummond laughed along with the intention of finding out if the joke was a symptom of discomfort or fear among the players.

She decided to check in with the team and asked how people were feeling about the presentation—if anyone was nervous or scared by the information she was providing. One student at the back lifted his hand; a short moment later, another hand went up.

“To me, that was a really amazing moment, because they were admitting that they were freaked out about this stuff in front of all their peers,” Drummond said. “There was something very important about that, but also something concerning … that this basic 101 presentation was really freaking people out.”

Drummond’s experience that day told her that the SARC needed to talk to every Stingers player – man or woman – about the issues surrounding sexual assault. They required more attention and information, and it was her job to make that happen.

Flash forward to this spring, and Drummond’s initiative is close to becoming a reality. In conjunction with the Recreation and Athletics department and the Dean of Students office, the SARC is implementing a sexual assault and consent training program for all Stingers teams and coaches. It’s due to begin next semester. Drummond says that her focus is on “changing the culture and the norms” of athletes at Concordia through education and dialogue.

The SARC’s initiative comes amid mounting controversies concerning universities’ policies toward sexual misconduct, and the actions of several collegiate athletes. Last year, the Toronto Star reported that only nine out of more than 100 Canadian universities and colleges had adopted special policies addressing sexual assault. They also pointed out that most of the schools polled had a single reference to sexual assault in their student codes of conduct, while some contained no mention of sex at all.

More recently, the Montreal Gazette reported on sexual assault scandals that have rocked teams and student athlete organizations in Ontario and Quebec. This included the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees hockey team: two of its players were charged with sexual assault after allegedly raping a 21-year-old woman during a team road trip, leading to the cancellation of the Gee-Gees 2014-2015 hockey season and firing of head coach Réal Paiement.

Drummond points to these kinds of events as an important factor in the development of the SARC’s training program. “Obviously, Concordia doesn’t want that to happen here,” she said. “So anything that works towards the prevention of that happening in the first place is really great.”

According to Julie Michaud, administrative coordinator at Concordia’s Centre for Gender Advocacy, these sexual assault controversies are fueled by a lack of general information about consent among athletes.

She supports the idea of training workshops for the Stingers teams. “My hunch is that athletes don’t ever talk about sexism, objectification, sexual assault or consent,” Michaud said. “So I think somebody needs to go in there and facilitate those conversations, because in all likelihood, they’re not going to spontaneously arise.”

For now, the SARC plans to hold a workshop for all Stingers coaches in August to inform them about various issues related to sexual assault, and to allow for a space where they can voice concerns and ask questions.

Afterward, each team will attend a two hour training session, though to make the groups more manageable, men and women will be trained separately. A decision has not yet been made on whether this training will be mandatory for all athletes before they can compete with their team.

Although Drummond believes that this athlete training program is important, she underlines that Concordia’s sports teams are not being singled out as a community by this initiative. “I think that is a common initial reaction. Of course no one wants to feel targeted, and that’s definitely not the intention,” Drummond said.

Much like the sexual assault training program being developed for students living in university residence, she says the focus is on taking a pre-established group and trying to harness their sense of community to advance education and awareness.

When speaking about her aspirations for the program, Drummond thinks back to last fall’s presentation, and the pair of athletes sitting in the back who raised their hands to admit their discomfort.

She says she wants those two to feel ready and willing to speak about consent, and to intervene if they see a teammate acting inappropriately.

“That is the attitude I hope they can get to, feeling confident in it and comfortable.”