At its first meeting of 2018 on Jan. 11, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council discussed accusations of sexual assault and harassment in the Faculty of Dentistry reported by the CBC. SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Carlee Kawinehta Loft also guest spoke on the topic of legislative reform, and Nikolas Dolmat sat in his role as the speaker for the first time.
Senator introduces CBC sexual violence report in the Faculty of Dentistry
Joshua Chin, the 2016-2017 student senator for Medicine and former de-facto representative for Dentistry, brought Council’s attention to a CBC report describing an allegation by a former McGill student that a dentist in the Faculty of Dentistry sexually assaulted her at an appointment in November 2016. The report also covers students’ ongoing claims about experiencing various forms of harassment from professors and staff in the faculty, and notes that the accused dentist was allowed to return to work after a short investigation by McGill.
“Unfortunately I don’t have much to say [about the sexual assault allegation] because I don’t know [the survivor],” Chin said. “[However], there is a second report of bullying and harassment corroborated by many students who I have spent hours speaking with in my capacity as a Senator from Medicine last year. There is a serious management and accountability problem here. Students do not feel safe coming forward with allegations or [expressing] concerns.”
Dentistry Representative Nishath Syed was not present at Council, but Medicine Representative André Lametti responded that the Medical Students’ Society was aware of the situation and had offered its support to the Dental Students' Society. SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer added that the Our Turn movement has an ongoing campaign to address instances of sexual violence at McGill.
“The Our Turn task force has been struck, and I’ve sent emails to every one of the faculties asking for faculty representatives,” Spencer said. “The task force will look at rape culture in each one of the faculties and examine what is being done to counter or address the culture of sexual harassment in them.”
Guest presentation from Indigenous Affairs Committee representatives
Loft and other members of the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee presented on the importance and implications of land acknowledgements and the committee’s role at McGill. According to Loft, the group serves as a consultative and decision-making body which collaborates with students and community groups and oversees the implementation of the Indigenous Solidarity Policy.
“Indigenous issues are really interwoven with any event or issue you may be considering on campus,” Loft said. “But we offer consultations so you can get an integrative approach to solidarity, not put all of the onus on another group.”
The committee also announced the Indigeneity and Solidarity Event Series, which will occur throughout this semester to educate students of all backgrounds on Indigenous identity and support both at McGill and beyond.
Council considers options for governance reform
At the suggestion of the Executive Committee, Council discussed the possibility of forming a review committee to consult students and create a strategic plan and referendum for governance reform in 2018. Council also debated whether increasing public availability of government documents such as the SSMU Constitution, which was discussed last semester, should be included in the process.
“[The strategic plan will address] the questions that were raised at Executive Committee,” SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva said. “How do students engage with SSMU? How is harm perpetuated by and in SSMU and how is harm addressed?”
Spencer acknowledged that the plan might be insufficient, but maintained the importance of starting a process toward change that could withstand SSMU’s fundamental lack of institutional memory.
“Yes, it is a huge project […] but we need to start somewhere,” Spencer said. “We might as well start now while we have a team of people that’s actually committed to doing this work, because we don’t know who will be here next year.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Medical Students’ Society (MSS) had offered its support to the Faculty of Dentistry. In fact, MSS had offered its support to the Dentistry Students' Society. The Tribune regrets this error.