Schools Victim-Blame Survivors

Graphic Caroline Tran

Throughout 2018, Concordia and McGill were rocked by accusations of pervasive cultures of sexual harassment on campus.

Both institutions have insisted they are taking action on this, that they are listening to students, and they’re finding solutions. Students have received mountains of emails, and the universities have unveiled task forces and committees to show how serious they are.

After six months of consultations, the universities quickly and quietly dropped their reports on sexual misconduct.

“There is a considerable gap between the community’s perception and knowledge of the available resources and what in fact is available,” says the summary of Concordia’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence.

In effect, the report states that the problems are with students, not with the university—that the university already does all it should, and that students are just ignorant of how much is done for them.

A report like this should be provoking outrage, and yet it isn’t. Why? Concordia has hidden behind academic minutia, counting on the apathy of people to forget. By burying their non-committal responses in non-committal reports, over months and months, they are playing on short attention spans, waiting for the controversy to blow over while changing nothing.

Despite repeated accusations that the university does not take reports of sexual harassment seriously, Concordia’s task force has washed the university’s hands of any responsibility.

Concordia Student Union General Coordinator Sophie Hough-Martin explained that the union has a raft of complaints with Concordia’s new policies, ranging from the three-month time limit on reporting sexual violence, to a complete lack of anonymous reporting options on campus.

Concordia is insistent that its task force is the solution to the university’s problems. Jennifer Drummond of the Sexual Assault Resource Centre and a collaborating member of the task force says that the changes outlined in Concordia’s report are a step in the right direction, but clarified that there’s always more that can be done as far as prevention goes.

Concordia has been promising extra funding for SARC since 2016.

Drummond said that the university is integrating its reporting services. When asked about how SARC’s budget has been affected and what has changed since the report, Drummond said that the group is aiming to bring in another full-time employee to help process people faster.

Though McGill conducted a series of consultations, they failed to form a centralized task force on sexual harassment. Instead they conducted student surveys and multiple committees including; an ad hoc committee to study campus sexual violence and make recommendations for solutions and a committee to ensure the school was adequately implementing its sexual violence policy.

Despite repeated accusations that the university does not take reports of sexual harassment seriously, Concordia’s task force has washed the university’s hands of any responsibility.

Like Concordia, McGill is burying the issue and refusing to spend money on it or bring in outside help.

An Access to Information request to McGill’s ‘Committee for the Implementation of the Policy Against Sexual Violence’ showed a lack if expense reports. McGill responded that they had no receipts relating to this committee.

McGill did form a Task Force on Respect and Inclusion at the beginning of the year, but this taskforce was focused on wider discrimination across the whole university. However, if one thinks this is a sign of the university taking student issues seriously, an Access to Information request showed the university spent less than $6000 on this taskforce, over half going to a graphic and a video conference with the principal of the university.

As part of its task force’s efforts Concordia paid $14,000 before taxes to a survey company to conduct online surveys. While this is far ahead of McGill’s zero dollars, the university, like McGill, is still dragging its feet on getting outside help.

The universities only seem willing to do what costs them nothing. Nothing is being spent on experts, nothing is being spent on consultations, nor on think tanks, nor seemingly on any continuing action.

While the actions McGill and Concordia are taking are not nothing, it is difficult to believe that these issues are being taken seriously when they will commit virtually no resources to understanding or combating them.

Sexual harassment is a difficult issue to solve, and no individual has a perfect solution. But one thing is for certain, what Concordia and McGill are doing is not enough.

When there is a problem without a clear-cut solution, the answer is to study it. . Though McGill has committed to studying the issue with eleven other universities it is still universities policing themselves. McGill and Concordia have been self-policing up until now and have clearly been failing. If universities want real change they need to bring in outside and impartial help.

Solving sexual harassment on campus is going to take more than posters and surveys.

The fact that McGill spent more on a graphic for a report than the report itself is inadequate. Currently for the average student the most they see of SARC’s presence on campus are posters on buses, and that’s inadequate. We need to stand up and make the universities listen, and to force them to actually put our money to use solving these issues.

There will be no awards, or accolades, no trophies or plaques, because this will take years of concerted effort. Not just to make universities safer, but to change generational attitudes. It is not a glorious fight or an easy fight, grand gestures will get us nowhere.

We need concerted, determined, real effort to change the world, which unfortunately means we may have to pull the old institutions kicking and screaming into the new world. But we must let them know we will not allow them to drag their feet any longer.