What is the “McGill context?” When do student activities count as a McGill event? Are events hosted off-campus still considered a McGill context? What about Frosh, or a house party in Milton-Parc?
These are difficult, but nonetheless important, questions because some of McGill’s policies only apply to a McGill context. For example, a student may allege that another student assaulted them, but if this didn’t happen on campus or at an official McGill event, follow-through with our formal disciplinary process might not be possible. Recent events at Queen’s and elsewhere show that we aren’t alone in wrestling with this issue. As Dean of Students, I want to clarify some of these definitions and make certain that we can use our disciplinary processes should a student violate the Code of Conduct, with the broader goal of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all students.
Faculty student societies at McGill are separate legal entities from the university, and any events they plan off-campus—including most Frosh activities—are not legally defined as a McGill context. If things go wrong during these events, it’s the respective student society’s responsibility to deal with it. Most students don’t know that events planned by student societies aren’t under the umbrella of McGill, and don’t realize that McGill’s Code of Conduct—one way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students—may not apply. Yet student societies and McGill have the shared goal of ensuring all events are not only fun, but also safe for every student. We need to work together to achieve this.
A pilot project that the McGill administration did in collaboration with Winter Carnival this year—a week-long event held in January of each year, organized by the Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) of McGill— allowed us to make important progress toward clarifying the McGill context. Historically, Winter Carnival has had a mixed reputation. However, this year’s MUS Vice President Events Ramzi Cotran wanted to change the culture to make student safety a priority, alongside Carnival’s other goals of raising money for cancer research, and being a fun event. He worked with Associate Dean Liette Lapointe from the Desautels Faculty of Management, and together with the MUS executive team, they approached me to discuss how we could work together to revisit the question of the McGill context with Carnival.
In December of 2016, I, as a representative of McGill, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the MUS executives. The MoU, approved by the Dean of the Desautels Faculty Management Isabelle Bajeux and the upper leadership at McGill, included several agreements, but fundamentally meant that the Code of Student Conduct would apply to Carnival events. Per the MoU, myself and the MUS admin and executives would work together on preparing communication and educational materials around consent education. We would discuss in detail all Carnival events with security services so that all of us were satisfied with safety measures and security. If incidents occurred, there would be a clear reporting structure, involvement of Disciplinary Officers and follow-through with disciplinary procedures. Finally, there would be a full debrief after Carnival to assess the success of the project.
Our efforts paid off—The 2017 Carnival was a success, and there was a very positive culture shift. Other than a few minor injuries and some logistical challenges, there were no major reported incidents. I offer my congratulations to Ramzi Cotran, MUS President Rachel Burk and the rest of the executive team, Associate Dean Lapointe, Dean Bajeux, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, and others for taking this step.
This is important progress towards a renewed and ongoing productive relationship with all Faculty student societies, especially as we look ahead to the 2017 Frosh. McGill and student societies can work together on educational materials and training, discuss venue security with our security services team, and put in place appropriate safeguards—using the Code of Conduct. This collaborative approach benefits the entire McGill community, and will provide all students with safe, respectful and engaging events that are even better than they are today.