McGill, News

Consultations on Sexual Violence Policy aim to promote student engagement

As part of the revisions to McGill’s Sexual Violence Policy, students will be able to attend consultation sessions to provide feedback on McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence from Feb. 6-13. Hosted by the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the results of these consultations will be compiled into a report and presented to the administration to assist the Sexual Violence Policy Working Group in its ongoing revisions.

The policy will be put forward for discussion at Senate this month and will be voted on in March.

In 2017, McGill’s previous Sexual Violence Policy received a C- grade from Our Turn, a student-led initiative to end sexual violence on Canadian university campuses. The low grade reflected the fact that McGill’s sexual violence policy is not self-contained, instead deferring to the Student Code of Conduct for disciplinary measures. Now, the revised policy includes specific rules regarding providing survivor-friendly disclosures, clear procedures for investigating incidents, and updated staff and faculty training policies on sexual violence. Despite protest in favour of an outright ban on professor-student relationships at the December Senate meeting, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policy) Angela Campbell cited Concordia University’s findings that such a ban would be unconstitutional.

“If a member of the teaching staff enters into a romantic or sexual relationship with a student [whom they do not have direct authority over], but where the student is nevertheless enrolled in the teaching staff member’s faculty, the teaching staff member must disclose the relationship immediately in writing following the process prescribed by the Regulation on Conflict of Interest,” the revised policy reads. “In such cases, administrative measures will be implemented to ensure that the teaching staff member has no academic authority or influence over the student concerned. “

Robyn Lee, SSMU equity commissioner and SSMU representative on the Sexual Violence Policy Working Group, appealed to the importance of student engagement with the policy.

“It’s important because [the policy] will affect students,” Lee said. “If someone were to say ‘I read this policy, […and] these things aren’t made clear to me,’ then that’s important information that we’ll take into consideration when writing the report. Then, when it’s presented to administration, we hope that they will take this feedback and then revise the wording to make it more clear and more accessible.”

Although Lee acknowledged that attendance at student consultations is often minimal, she hopes to boost interest by making these Sexual Violence Policy consultations as accessible as possible.

“We have set [the consultations at] different times in different rooms around campus,” Lee said. “I think by trying to spread those out, we’re trying to get more students. The thing with town halls is that they’ll be one evening […], so we’ve tried our best to structure [the consultations] so that more students can come.”

Besides attending consultations, students can advocate for sexual violence legislation in a number of ways. Connor Spencer, former vice-president (VP) external for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and chair of Students for Consent Culture Canada, discussed the importance of engagement on a departmental level.

“The one concrete thing that I think, specifically, students can do on the McGill campus that is really useful right now is students need to be working within their departments,” Spencer said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “There are students who are working at the university level and trying to get change at the provincial level, but one of the places that we’re seeing the most effective mobilization is within departments. Students at McGill have always been protecting each other and will continue to when our university does not.”

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