On Sept. 23, McGill released “It Takes All of Us”, its new mandatory sexual violence prevention training program. Those who do not complete the program—which features modules on sexual violence, consent, bystander intervention, and survivor support—will be unable to register for academic courses in the Winter 2020 semester. “It Takes All of Us” follows from the Quebec Act to Prevent and Fight Sexual Violence in Higher Education Institutions which requires universities to provide mandatory training for students and staff. While the program heeds McGill students’ call to action for improved sexual violence infrastructure, it misses the mark on crucial issues such as power dynamics and leaves gaps in terms of survivor support. Moreover, despite the titular implication that the McGill community is in it together, different completion deadlines for students and staff undermines the sense of equal responsibility.
While the new training program falls short in some ways, it is not irredeemable. “It Takes All of Us”’s thoughtful structure and content demonstrate the care that the developers took when designing it. The program’s use of gender-neutral names and specific statistics on the experiences of women of colour represent small but meaningful steps toward campus awareness of minority issues.
For programs on serious topics like sexual violence, attentitiveness is paramount. In this respect, the software design of “It Takes All of Us”, especially McGill succeeds in ensuring participants focus on the content. While users can skip over videos, pop-up questions act as a deterrent: If a student tries to bypass a video, the program will launch a content-related question on their screen and bar them from accessing the skipped video to find the answer. Users are also unable to mute the program or switch tabs, which help ensure they remain tuned in, although it is still possible they could simply mute their computer’s volume.
Despite taking certain steps in the right direction, the program’s omission of content addressing power dynamics is both disappointing and unsettling. While the staff version of the course stresses the prohibition of romantic and sexual relations between staff and students under their authority, the student course does not educate on the risks of power dynamics. Given McGill’s recent protests against faculty sexual misconduct in 2018, failing to mention these issues in the student program hinders its potential to protect students. Predatory staff have been an appalling yet very real part of student experiences at McGill. To evade all mention of these scenarios in the student program disrespects those who struggled with such experiences and fought for the development of a mandated sexual violence program that addresses power dynamics.
On top of the omission of power dynamics, the later program completion deadline for staff shows that faculty and students are being held to a different standard. Following years of sexual misconduct being swept under the rug, McGill needs to hold staff in positions of power more accountable, and by showing that the program is less timely for them, McGill sends the opposite message.
The program should also be updated to be more considerate of its audience. The scenario-based units use fraternity-centric storylines that may not be relatable for much of the McGill population. Selecting situations that more students can relate to—in residence or office hours, perhaps—would increase the program’s effectiveness.
“Despite taking certain steps in the right direction, the program’s omission of content addressing power dynamics is both disappointing and unsettling.”
Moreover, “It Takes All of Us” needs more recognition of experiences of Indigenous and people of colour in the program. While the program provides statistics on who reports and experiences sexual violence, it overlooks the socio-cultural factors that underlie these numbers. For example, it cites fear of not being believed as one reason why survivors do not report their assault to the police; however, it fails to recognize that for many people—especially people of colour—this fear is grounded in repeated instances of police mishandling victim reports. The program needs to do more to recognize the equity issues that lead to sexual violence and keep survivors quiet.
The logistics of designing a program that will fit all student experiences are immensely complicated. With that said, a third of women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, and most survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or experience symptoms of it, including panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, and dissociation. For survivors, content even partially related to their experience can be triggering, let alone an entire mandated workshop on sexual violence.“It Takes All of Us” strives to accommodate survivors and even features a “feeling overwhelmed” button that allows users to skip over one entire section. However, skipping one section is not likely to ease all symptoms of PTSD and this single feature must be supplemented with a more survivor-conscious framework including more methods for survivors to opt-out of the program entirely. One way McGill could do this is by exempting survivors with psychologist or therapist notes from the course.
“While the program provides statistics on who reports and experiences sexual violence, it overlooks the socio-cultural factors that underlie these numbers.”
The program also notes that survivors can go to McGill’s Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education (OSVRSE) to find support for completing the program. The OSVRSE staff are trained in active listening and create a safe environment for survivors. However, the office is also understaffed and is realistically unable to accommodate all of the students who might want help with “It Takes All of Us”. With the reality of such high rates of sexual violence, McGill has a responsibility to provide more accommodations for survivors completing this program. Increasing funding and resources for a small office like OSVRSE and developing alternative venues for support would help more students feel safe. Moreover, McGill must an effort beyond “It Takes All of Us”. In order to fully show solidarity with survivors, McGill must continue to improve and enforce its new sexual violence policy.
Despite having room for improvement, The McGill Tribune urges students and staff to complete the “It Takes All of Us” program with care. The course gives people an opportunity to reflect on their actions or inactions and consider how they can improve. Even students with previous training who feel confident in their knowledge should be attentive when completing the program. Sexual violence is preventable and every step towards awareness matters; students must not overlook the importance of taking “It Takes All of Us” seriously.
Resources and suggestions for survivors:
Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society [email protected] or 514-398-8500
Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education [email protected] or 514-398-3954
Complete the course with trusted friends or attend OSVRSE completion workshops