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SSMU Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum tackles lack of change and trust

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted a Gendered and Sexual Violence Open Forum on Oct. 16 to receive feedback and answer questions from members of the McGill community on campus discourse surrounding sexual violence and the development of a SSMU Gendered and Sexualized Violence Policy (GSVP). SSMU Vice-President (VP) External Connor Spencer moderated the forum, which was livestreamed in order to increase its accessibility to the general public.

According to Spencer, SSMU is in the process of creating a GSVP after allegations that 2016-17 SSMU president Ben Ger and former 2016-17 SSMU VP External David Aird committed gendered and sexual violence, respectively.

“Some allegations were made against two students in [SSMU], which resulted in two executive resignations,” Spencer said. “One of these executives had anonymous disclosures, over 12, made against him. A group called the Community Disclosure Network [CDN] brought them forward to SSMU [….] Part of the work they did was a recommendation to look into creating a policy that specifically addresses gendered and sexualized violence.”

The purpose of the open forum was to collect a diverse set of student opinions on the forthcoming GSVP.

“With membership, we’re hoping to get general [feedback] on how students are feeling about conversations on campus, conversations at the admin level, conversations at the grassroots level,” Spencer said. “There are rooms and spaces on this campus that are working on these themes, […] but it’s often just specific student representatives.”

Spencer mentioned that the feedback from forums will be factored into the GSVP. She also confirmed that SSMU does not have sufficient resources for responding to disclosures or reports of gendered and sexualized violence. According to Spencer, SSMU’s only current avenue for addressing gendered and sexualized violence is its equity policy, which she says is insufficient.

“The equity policy explicitly states that it does not deal with sexual assault and sexual violence,” Spencer said. “That is why we got into the situation we were in last year. There is a SSMU employee manual that deals with sexual harassment and psychological harassment, and that is the closest thing.”

Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Equity Commissioner Ana Paula Sanchéz, who attended the forum, criticized SSMU for not publicizing any recent changes in their approach to gendered and sexualized violence.

“I believe on the SSMU website, there’s no information on where to get resources [that address gendered and sexualized violence],” Sanchéz said. “Are we only going to have Facebook events and forums?”

One forum attendee posed a question about how discussions of triggering topics can prevent people from attending forums and other events centered around the discussion of gendered and sexualized violence. Dorothy Apedaile, U4 Science, pointed out that physically attending events is not the only way to contribute to the creation of the GSVP.

“Mobilization isn’t always about getting people into a room,” Apedaile said. “Mobilization is also about getting people to think about issues.”

Though the forum was a step towards developing SSMU’s GSVP, Spencer believes that the policy will take years to finalize.

“I have problems with some of the narratives that were mobilized when the current executive took office [about] how it’s a fresh slate,” Spencer said. “We have a flawed system [and] a flawed institution, and it is going to take many years of many good people before we can get students to talk about work that is being done [about gendered and sexualized violence].”

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