McGill, Montreal, News, SSMU

Students call for greater cross-university collaboration on sexual violence policies

Three Concordia University student organizations announced on Oct. 5 that they would not participate in, nor nominate representatives to, the university’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence (SMSV). Their statement of non-participation claimed that the SMSV committee undermined student participation and was “hostile” toward students’ attempts to change Concordia’s policy. The McGill Tribune looked into the role student participation plays in McGill’s Policy against Sexual Violence (PSV) and whether similar criticisms apply to McGill when considering student input during its revision process.

McGill’s PSV is reviewed triennially and was last approved by the Senate and the Board of Governors in September and October of this year respectively. An implementation committee—including four student representatives, one member of the university’s academic staff, and representatives of various campus services, among other campus stakeholders—meets four times annually to oversee the PSV and to issue recommendations for revision. These recommendations are taken to the PSV’s working group, which then revises the PSV. The working group is composed of 19 members, one from each student association and union at McGill, as well as a representative from the Office of Dean of Students, Human Resources, Sexual Violence Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and more. 

Although they hold seats on the PSV’s working group, student associations at McGill do not hold seats on the implementation committee. This is because student associations are legally separate entities from McGill and the PSV does not apply to them. As a result, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has its own policy: The SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy, to combat sexual violence and support survivors. 

In a statement to the Tribune, McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle emphasized the importance of student voices in the implementation of the PSV. Mazerolle also noted that the recent revisions to the PSV resulted from significant student advocacy. 

“One of the key changes to the PSV is a process that allows survivors of sexual violence who have filed formal reports to access information about the outcome of a disciplinary process where sexual violence was found to have occurred,” Mazerolle wrote. “This policy change was the result of a legislative amendment that stemmed from strong survivor and student advocacy.”

At Concordia, students have led the charge in advocating for better university-level policies. Saskia Kowalchuk, a Teaching and Research Assistants at Concordia (TRAC) Feminist Workplace Committee member, emphasized the importance of student participation in an email to the //Tribune//.

“Students are the experts on our own rights, needs, and experience,”  Kowalchuk wrote. “Concordia University must begin treating us as such, but until they do we cannot continue to participate in their unjust and illegitimate processes at the SMSV.” 

Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Senator Sam Baron raised concerns about the McGill PSV’s missing framework for collaboration with student organizations in the policy’s implementation. 

“We were invited to make edits to the [PSV] during the summer, and while they took some of our comments, the university was either not willing or not capable of incorporating feedback and information-sharing mechanisms for our undergraduate societies into the policy,” Baron wrote in an email to the Tribune

Though SSMU has its own policy, SSMU vice-president (VP) University Affairs Kerry Yang believes that there should be more opportunities for collaboration between the university and student representatives for tackling sexual violence on campus. 

“We would like to see much more communication and collaboration on sexual violence from McGill,” Yang wrote in an email to the Tribune. “Although we cannot interact with the policy as SSMU, we would love it if McGill had more open channels of collaboration on this issue.”

Despite these shortcomings, Baron considers the PSV to be a strong, survivor-centric mechanism for combatting sexual violence.

“Regardless of the outcomes, the process is legally sound, provides good opportunities for the support of survivors, and has a lot of flexibility in the measures it can implement upon the completion of a report,” Baron wrote. “If we as students continue holding McGill accountable for when they deviate from their established processes, we can make the [PSV] work for us.”

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