Influencing McGill administration can feel like a futile pursuit, but, this month, students have a tangible opportunity to voice their concerns. The administration is currently revising the Code of Student Conduct for the first time since 2013 and has been seeking student input. Set to be amended by the end of the Fall 2018 semester, the updated Code proposes several important changes, chief among which is a broadened definition of the ‘university context.’ The proposed changes are substantial, however, turnout for student involvement has been low. Creating a policy that reflects student interests requires a joint effort: The administration should brainstorm creative outreach methods, and conversely, students need to work to make their voices heard, even as other priorities compete for their time.
Changes in the Code are largely a result of student effort: McGill alumna Kathryn Leci has been a powerful advocate for expanding the Code. Her story prompted the discussion about formally redefining the ‘university context.’ In 2015, Leci (then U3 Engineering) was assaulted by Conrad Gaysford (then U3 Engineering) at a party in the Plateau. Leci, afraid of seeing Gaysford on campus, went to the McGill administration to initiate disciplinary proceedings. However, the then-dean of students told her that, because the assault happened off-campus, there was nothing that McGill could do—it was outside of the ‘university context.’ Leci’s case revealed the gaps in the Code that left students like her stranded, and the Code’s revisions directly address this failure.
Proposed changes to the Code are not limited to the university context. Section 10 of the new policy establishes that allegations of sexual violence are subject to the process set out in McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence, which assigns campus security or McGill’s special investigator to handle complaints of sexual violence or harassment. This change is crucial; sexual violence is distinct from other offences addressed by the Code, demanding a different standard of care and sensitivity. Section 10 of the updated Code proposes removing the requirement for intent in cases of harassment, reinforcing that harassment doesn’t require intent to inflict physical and mental harm on its victims. Similarly, Section 15 outlines that the university will still pursue disciplinary actions if it refers a complaint to legal authorities, whereas previously, the university would not allow for simultaneous investigations. Legal processes move notoriously slowly, and this change gives the university the flexibility it needs to protect students in situations like Leci’s where more immediate action is needed. Each of these revisions is important to improving the administration’s response to instances of sexual violence and harassment.
These proposed changes are promising, however, the revision process has been imperfect. While organized student groups, such as the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Legal Information Clinic at McGill, are in regular consultation with the Office of the Dean of Students, very few individual students have submitted feedback. There is a defined institutional barrier between the administration and students, therefore, administration should pursue more creative and accessible methods to engage time-strapped students in the revision process. Initiatives like tabling at the Y-Intersection or in first-year residences would help better reach students. However, students are notoriously reluctant to make their voices heard when the labour cost goes beyond a one-time protest. Fostering dialogue is a shared responsibility that students must make more of an effort to bear.
Still, student disengagement speaks to structural barriers that surpass midterm season. While the document outlining the proposed changes is well-formatted, blocks of legal jargon are not student-friendly, nor are they accessible. Once the proposed changes are finalized, there should be an effort to produce a more readable summary in the style of SSMU’s implementation guide for their new Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy, or its Know your Student Rights! campaign. Strengthening the presentation of the information already on the Office of the Dean of Students’ website would be a strong and simple start.
The Student Code of Conduct should be a cooperative process between students and administrators. Engaging with policy proposals is a more time-consuming endeavour than attending protests and walkouts, however, student involvement is essential, even when the tasks at hand aren’t glamorous. While the online consultation period has officially closed, the web form is still active, and it isn’t the only way for students to make their voices heard. Students can send the Dean of Students an email or attend his office’s drop-in hours to give feedback on the proposed revisions to the Code. Creating effective policy requires that students and administration alike be engaged. So speak up—it’s in everyone’s interest.