McGill University has released a draft of its Policy against Sexual Violence as of the morning of Monday, Sept. 12. The draft comes after a consultation period, which started in April, during which the university sought feedback from various campus groups, including the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS).
Since Fall 2013, the Sexual Assault Policy Proposal group (SAPP) has been fighting for the implementation of a sexual assault policy drafted by students. SAPP was formed in response to a 2013 incident in which several McGill football players were faced with accusations of sexual assault from a Concordia student, highlighting the university’s lack of sexual assault policy.
The policy created by SAPP was never brought to the Senate. In an open letter published on April 7, SAPP conveyed their displeasure towards the administration for not considering the sexual assault policy.
“We are tired of empty words and hollow actions,” the letter stated. “We are tired of an administration that does not prioritize supporting survivors of sexual assault.”
“The university does present a certain lack of support towards students, but this is something the administration is working on,” Erin Sobat, Vice-President (VP) University Affairs of the SSMU said. “An example is that the upper administration and the Senate made a commitment that the new policy will pass. Now the question is to ensure that the policy will remain as substantial as possible.”
In May, Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) circulated the draft of a policy written by the McGill Administration. Campbell asked certain groups—such as SSMU—for feedback, and intended to seek Senate approval in Fall 2016.
Campbell wrote in an email to the McGill Tribune that the newly drafted policy will ensure that any individual who self-identifies as a survivor of sexual violence feels safe and respected on campus.
“The draft policy…puts support for survivors at its centre,” Campbell wrote. “This policy establishes a range of measures that seek to ensure a respectful, dignified, confidential, and compassionate response to any member of the McGill community who discloses an incident of sexual violence, regardless of whether such incident occurred in a McGill context or not.”
Christopher Buddle, Dean of Students, wrote on the importance of the new policy in an email to the McGill Tribune.
“The policy development is not only a question of a ‘good’ move, but an ‘essential’ and ‘important’ move,” Buddle wrote. “The development of this policy is allowing us to assess many of the other policies that exist within the institution, to ensure they work within the framework of the proposed policy. The sexual violence policy is not an endpoint, but rather one essential part of a longer process.”
According to Sobat, there are a few differences between the sexual assault policy proposed by SAPP and the administration-drafted policy that will be presented in Senate.
“The student-led proposal has a stronger anti-oppressive approach to addressing sexual violence on campus,” Sobat said. “It recognizes that different marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by sexual violence.”
Sobat also explained that the university policy makes fewer concrete commitments than the student-drafted policy.
“The university-drafted policy tries to address all of the student body and is, in essence, more procedural,” Sobat said. “[The policy] suggests that through education, awareness building, and training, such problems will cease. Additionally, the student-drafted policy had stronger commitments on the investment of resources, such as creating a centralized office for these issues, while the university drafted policy has no such commitments.”
Silence is Violence is a survivor-led group that aims to address rape culture on university campuses. The McGill chapter of Silence is Violence launched on Aug. 26, 2016. Paniz Khosroshahy, founder of the group’s McGill chapter, and Ariane Litalien, organizer of the chapter, commented on the policy draft in a message to the McGill Tribune.
“At the technical level, the policy is incredibly vague and lacks clear language on a number of key issues,” Litalien and Khosroshahy wrote. “[…In] keeping the language of the policy vague, McGill officials are simultaneously asking survivors of sexual violence to take a giant leap of faith and assume that the university will do the right thing for them when they report [an assault], and [are] protecting their own institution in case it falls short of a reasonable response.”
The university is asking the McGill community for input on the policy draft and has created a feedback form on their website. Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis with a suggested deadline of Sept. 30.
“What we would like to do is have the policy go to Senate for information in October,” said Campbell. “[…Once] we hear back from the community after that Senate meeting, by then we’ll have had a chance to canvass the community at large through this consultation process [….] We’ll then work more on the policy after that Senate meeting and bring it back for an adoption later in the fall, either in November or December.”
Buddle also stressed the need for community collaboration as the policy is further developed.
“I know the policy being brought forward under the guidance of the Associate Provost Angela Campbell builds upon the excellent work done by the workgroup over the past years,” Buddle wrote. “I think the workgroup, and the broader community, can certainly help us further refine and improve the policy being brought forward, but we’ll also need to work collaboratively as we implement the policy.”
The goal for the implementation of the policy, according to Campbell is to accommodate the McGill community and provide support.
“[We] need to hear everybody, but students in particular,” said Campbell. “We have to remember that this is really about developing a campus that is safe and compassionate. Even though it’s big, and even though it can be daunting, it has to be a place where people can [feel that] they’re protected from sexual violence and if there’s an incident that happens they can seek out the services that they need without any sense that their own security is compromised in the process of getting support, because that’s counterproductive to the goal of support.”
This article was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.