Since Apr. 11, McGill’s administrative playing field has shifted. The special investigator, the committee dedicated to staff-student relationships, and SSMU’s proposed GSVP each offer the potential to help reform campus culture. However, as the student activists who spoke to the Tribune stressed, now is not the time for complacency.
“I think important ground was gained last semester,” Spencer said. “But also important ground was gained in 2015, and 2016 when the policy was first passed, and then quickly after we saw a decline in activism that led to further steps not being implemented right away. That’s something that I think we hopefully can learn from this, [that] we need to keep pushing, and not let McGill use the special investigator as their answer to our call last semester.”
"We need to keep pushing, and not let McGill use the special investigator as their answer to our call last semester.”
Students need to continue engaging themselves in these processes—whether that means talking to their departmental representation, showing up to ad hoc committees’ town halls and consultations, or even simply voting in the upcoming online referendum.
“Students will have a vital role in how McGill fosters safer spaces,” Bianca Tetrault, the Sexual Violence Education Advisor of McGill’s Office for Sexual Violence, Response, Support and Education, wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I encourage students to take part in events related to equity and discrimination, to attend town halls, submit letters to committees seeking feedback, and continue discussing these very real topics with anyone you can.”
Spencer believes that real change will happen by reforming independent departmental procedures, and groups like the Political Science Students Association have already begun to develop their own internal guidelines.
“I think students really need to get involved with their departmental associations,” Spencer said. “That’s where [...] I think the important activism on the student end is going to be housed within the next couple years, of holding their own faculty accountable and their own department accountable.”
Last April’s walkout will continue to signify a pivotal moment in student activism, but students cannot let their involvement stop there. Dube says she was surprised to find that, despite the walkout’s considerable turnout, students were much less enthusiastic about involving themselves in the SSMU GSVP drafting process.
“We held two open consultations, [and] a couple [of] closed consultations, and even people who championed this issue on their platform didn’t bother showing up to a consultation,” said Dube. “Yet, everybody showed up for the walkout, because that’s an easy action to take, and while the support is appreciated, it was really bewildering to me that people cared about it when they could take a quick Snapchat and show that they participated in it, but didn't come out and provide concrete feedback and be part of the solution when those opportunities were presented.”
The walkout should be a reminder that student activism works. McGill would not have hired a special investigator, nor would it have launched the Ad Hoc committee, had students not thrust the university under public scrutiny. To continue spurring change, and to make sure that McGill meets its promises, students need to keep putting pressure on these institutions.
“The development of a policy and hiring of an investigator is meaningless if these processes are not [implemented] properly or conducted in a way that is survivor-centric,” Salvino wrote in a message to the Tribune. “It is important [that] we continue to hold SSMU and McGill accountable to ensure they are properly implementing these policies and providing survivors with the support they deserve.”
This past year has seen tremendous progress, but students need to stretch their involvement beyond Snapchat and CBC photo opps. Having prompted substantial change last spring, students now need to show administration that their anger still won’t blow over.