As McGill works on drafting a new sexual assault policy, one survivor’s experience demonstrated that our administration and faculty associations are failing in their responsibility to provide adequate redress to students who have been sexually assaulted. After an incident at an undergraduate departmental event where the survivor was allegedly sexually assaulted, the survivor did benefit from McGill’s support measures—which will be formalized in the new policy—but was unable to have her accusations investigated by McGill due to the fact that the incident happened outside of a “McGill context.” The incident is also demonstrative of a wider failing on McGill’s campus: Namely, the failure of the McGill administration and of faculty associations to address a policy that does not adequately protect survivors.
Under McGill’s current system, faculty associations are technically separate corporate entities from McGill, only connected through a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). MoAs permit faculty associations to use McGill’s name, among other technicalities, but do not make McGill liable for any misconduct that falls within the perview of those associations but outside of the McGill context. A “McGill context” refers to an activity that is on campus or hosted by the university. Therefore, it does not apply to events hosted off-campus by faculty associations or clubs. For example, if a student is sexually assaulted at a Frosh event that is held off-campus, McGill can only provide support measures and not redress procedures. The university would be unable to launch an investigation against the accused due to the parameters of the McGill context. This is a fact that most students at McGill are not aware of, and that Dean of Students Andre Costopoulos acknowledged as a “perception issue” in an interview with the Tribune.
Any attempts to fill these gaps in the policy in recent years have not led to concrete changes. Two years since the coverage of the former players on the McGill Redmen football team who were arrested on charges of sexual assault, McGill’s sexual assault policy has not accounted for the shortcomings created by the McGill context. It still lacks procedures for redress when a case falls outside the stipulated McGill context, which has prevented survivors from receiving the recourse they have asked for. The policy draft as it currently exists will not change this.
Short of a major reform of the way that McGill defines the univeristy context, which would be a lengthy and not necessarily fruitful process, more must be done to inform all students about how to navigate the procedures for handling sexual assault at McGill. Students must be made aware of the current limitations of the sexual assault policy. There also needs to be an improvement in the support measures and procedures for handling sexual assault allegations within faculty associations to ameliorate the university’s current limitations in supporting and providing recourse to survivors.
The survivor who spoke to the Tribune showed great bravery to approach the administration and faculty association for assistance. The survivor met with the Dean of Students and spoke with the student representatives within their faculty; ultimately, the system failed them. Although the alleged perpetrator was banned from study spaces on campus so that the survivor could study in peace, that is not enough by itself. These steps at the administrative level must be replicated at the faculty level, which should also develop pro-survivor, synthesized, and codified procedures so that survivors do not have to jump through hoops to receive basic rights.
The McGill administration provides support measures to any student who is a survivor of sexual assault, but more still needs to be done to expand preventative measures. Students who live in residence are expected to grapple with issues of sexuality, equity, and consent during the mandatory Rez Project program. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for approximately half of McGill students who never live in residence. Holding mandatory workshops throughout the year for all incoming McGill students who don’t go through Rez Project, or creating a mandatory online exam about sexual assault for new students will raise awareness and strengthen preventative measures by ensuring a more educated campus population.
For survivors, the current process is opaque. McGill already has a commendable support system in place, but its method of recourse is neither clearly advertised nor explained. The parameters within which McGill can legally enact sanctions and provide recourse measures for survivors who are assaulted beyond the scope of the McGill context is unclear. In order to address the gaps in sexual assault policy on campus in both the short and long term, entrenchment of pro-survivor procedures must be accompanied by higher standards of accountability within all organizations that bear McGill’s name.