Students Denounce ‘Inaction’ on Campus Sexual Violence

Survivors Say University Has Been Complicit for Decades

  • Students decry the university’s inaction on sexual violence. Photo Olivier Cadotte

“When I asked why is it impossible for faculty members to be held to the same standards as students in this institution? Why is it impossible for faculty members not to fuck their students, for faculty members to have the same amount of natural justice as students in this institution? I was told that it was an untenable problem,” said Sophie Hough-Martin, with tears in her eyes, to a crowd of about 100 students.

“That it was not worth addressing, because getting all faculty members on the same page in an institution this size is impossible, so it’s not worth it to try.”

For the last 10 months, Hough-Martin, the general coordinator of the Concordia Student Union, has been sitting on the school’s sexual violence committee. It formed last winter amid allegations of sexual misconduct in the creative writing program.

After coming out of another one of these meetings, she joined the protesters outside of Concordia’s GM building to call out the university’s inaction on sexual violence.

Protesters want the university to implement an action plan to address student recommendations that have come up in community consultations, and say improvements need to be made to Concordia’s sexual violence policy.

They say the current policy isn’t doing enough to cater to the needs of sexual violence complainants, and that it should stand alone, not referencing any other codes of conduct.

The current policy holds part-time faculty, full-time faculty, and students to different standards. Since the policy referrers to other regulations, protesters say it’s too difficult to understand and navigate.

“Anger and jealousy was common, and greater leverage was given. We saw fellow classmates fade from being ambitious, talented writers, to silent young women. We are countless who are propositioned in vile ways by those who are supposed to teach us, the examples are too many to name here.”
—Margot Berner

Many students cried throughout the protest.

“Concordia is far from being an innocent bystander, Concordia is complicit,” said Margot Berner, an English literature student, reading from an anonymous statement by a student. “For decades Concordia has had a revolving door of women who have been attacked the same way I was, we were. Predators are still at the school.”

“One of us was asked by a teacher after not responding to sexual advances if ‘we weren’t interested in writing?’ Another teacher showed one of us his bed and offered us wine, he refused to discuss writing,” she continued.

“Anger and jealousy was common, and greater leverage was given. We saw fellow classmates fade from being ambitious, talented writers, to silent young women. We are countless who are propositioned in vile ways by those who are supposed to teach us, the examples are too many to name here.”

Students at the protest also want the university to lobby the provincial government to change privacy legislation that forbids students from learning whether or not reprimands have been given to faculty or staff alleged of sexual violence. Students are also unable to get confirmation on whether their complaints were considered founded or not.

Photo courtesy Gaby Novoa

A statement read from Toronto novelist Ibi Kaslik echoed that concern. A former creative writing student, Kaslik reported her own experience with a Concordia professor to the university last winter, around when the university began encouraging survivors to come forward with their stories.

“Imagine my disbelief when [the lawyer] repeatedly told me she could not disclose the result of said investigation to the very victim who had instigated it, me, but that I should be lauded for coming forward and for my bravery,” she wrote.

“In the press I have been quoted at saying this experience has been Kafkaesque and absurd, indeed. Through this process I have learned the law does not equate justice and I have been systemically retraumatized.”

“I spoke to [the lawyer] for hours on end in good faith honouring the so called process. I shared with [her] a highly detailed, personal, and traumatizing recount of being a student [of this professor], who relentlessly sexually harassed me and my peers in our mid-twenties. To see nothing come of this exchange after a year, and to be continually rebuked and ignored by your institution is, as you can imagine, discouraging.”

Concordia Association for Students in English President Meredith Marty-Dugas said it’s still unclear whether recommendations from the English department’s recent climate review will be enforced.

She’s demanding an action plan be put in place based on those recommendations, and denounced how only the university had a say in which third party would take part in their review.

Deputy Provost Lisa Ostiguy said she wasn’t surprised to hear the issues raised at the protest. Chair of the school’s sexual violence committee, she said clearly the progress they’ve been making hasn’t gone far enough.

She emphasized that she hopes to see their sexual violence policy change in line with students’ recommendations.

“The university never changes policies on the fly, because there’s a process that goes through the board of governors, so we’re going to review it one year later,” she said. “In January we will do a formal review, and ideally our timeline is to finalize the policy and bring it to the board next May.”

The Centre for Action on Race-Relations is encouraging students to contact the CSU’s Legal Clinic if they’re not satisfied with how their complaints are being handled.

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