Consent classes, campus sexual violence trainings exist, but students and experts say more needed
It’s calmer this week on the Western University campus following four formal complaints of sexual assault during school orientation week in September, a dizzying storm of allegations shared on social networks followed by a massive walkout in which thousands of students spoke out against sexual violence, misogyny and rape culture on campus.
“It’s been a really tough few weeks,” said student leader Eunice Oladejo.
Yet the recent political science graduate, who is also the vice president of external affairs for the Western University Student Council, is pushing for the difficult conversation to continue at her school in London, Ont., And beyond.
“It’s not just something happening on the Western campus, it’s something happening on many different campuses.”
Western has launched a task force on sexual violence and new measures such as a compulsory training course for students and the hiring of more security guards. What happened has also reignited discussions elsewhere about the lingering problem of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses and what institutions are doing to educate students, faculty and staff about it.
Postsecondary policies regarding sexual violence on campus vary by province and school. While some institutions have mandatory consent courses for staff and students, others organize voluntary workshops and events. Across campuses, resources devoted to sexual violence can range from multi-person teams amplified by student volunteers to one-person operations.
According to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, 71% of students have witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behavior in the past year. This number includes on-campus and off-campus situations that involved students or other people associated with the school.
One in ten women who participated in the research reported having been sexually assaulted. But only eight percent of women and six percent of men who have experienced sexual assault have reported it to someone associated with school. Some said they thought the situation was not serious enough to be reported; others said they didn’t know what to do or didn’t trust the school to do it.
“It’s important to keep these conversations going because we don’t want this to be something that goes unnoticed,” said Oladejo, who, in her additional role as President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, advocates for more policies. Ontario government’s strict laws regarding sexual violence on campus.
“We really want to keep the pressure on.”
The compulsory course sends “a strong message”
Since 2015, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Quebec have all passed laws requiring colleges and universities to implement stand-alone sexual violence policies. ; Nova Scotia also introduced the idea.
At McGill University, the policy development process resulted in the adoption of a mandatory online course on consent called It Takes All of Us: Creating a Campus Community Free of Sexual Violence (based on a course similar to another Montreal school at Concordia University).
Everyone has to take it – new students, faculty, and staff – by a specific date each fall. Incoming students must complete it before they can delve into the cool week’s activities and, moreover, cannot register for their next winter term courses until they have done so. said Angela Campbell, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Academic Policy at McGill.
Making the course compulsory sends “a very strong message to our community about how we take this issue seriously and how important it is to us, that all members of our community have at least a common understanding of what it is. is sexual violence, what consent is and how to respond effectively and compassionately to disclosures of sexual violence, ”she said.
Campbell described It Takes All of Us as “an integral part” of a larger suite of initiatives, which includes residential events and targeted in-person training for student counselors, student services staff. and others.
McGill student Christine Wang found the course – which shares stats, presents different scenarios, and ends with support and resources – quite disconcerting, despite her prior knowledge of the subject and the groups most at risk of. experience sexual violence, she said.
“It’s a great start to changing the culture on campus,” said Wang, who is pursuing a master’s degree in physiotherapy.
“There is more work to be done in terms of support … especially for students from marginalized communities, such as trans students, racialized students and [students with] with disabilities. “
“Sexual violence touches all aspects of life”
St. Mary’s University in Halifax launched “Consent Week” on campus in 2017 which is now approaching the start of the fall and winter terms. The weeks typically feature a range of events that are both “fun and exciting” as well as those in a serious tone, says Lyndsay Anderson, deputy director of culture and student experience at the school.
“Sexual violence affects all facets of life, not just university life, but I think university can help make our students aware of it and understand this,” she said.
One of this week’s sessions, which was voluntary, specifically targeted men and students who identify as male to discuss consent and masculinity.
This is a subject that can be difficult for some, especially freshmen who are starting to “move away from their parents’ moral codes and develop their own,” said Brian MacAulay, director of the counseling center. school and co-host of the conference.
“A lot of companies tell men or people who identify with themselves how to act and how we’re not supposed to act. And so asking someone to let go of their barriers and be vulnerable… it’s really important to create a open space, caring and essentially allowing people to express their views and have a real discussion. ”
Multi-pronged approach, including ‘happy’ learning
School officials and sexual violence research experts agree that a multitude of steps are needed to educate campus communities.
For every province and territory to require institutions to have policies on sexual violence, schools with well-funded and well-staffed sexual assault offices, oversight of investigations and decisions, and training explicit for the staff involved are all important pieces of the puzzle, says Farrah Khan, director of the Consent First office at Ryerson University.
Also co-director of Courage to Act, a national project to prevent gender-based violence on post-secondary campuses, Khan calls on provinces to improve consent learning at the elementary and secondary levels to reach students “before they even have them.” take the plunge on a university or college campus.
She supports mandatory consent training (which Western University is now implementing for all residents) and recommends annual refresher sessions for people in student positions. But she also wants to see such concepts become part of the fabric of campus life.
“We have a DJ [during orientation]. Are we talking about the music they play? Do we have speakers between the series talking about consent, relationships? Do we have security teams… roaming in space? ”Khan said.
The downtown Toronto school regularly hosts activities such as “Sexy Sexual Health Trivia” parties with sexual health educator Samantha Bitty, which allow students to ask questions and learn more about consent. in a positive way, she said.
Another ongoing and popular initiative is Curiosity Labs, a partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University that provides a fun and interactive space for students to discuss topics such as fun, relationship skills, breakups, and flirting.
The overall goal is to develop a common awareness and language for discussing consent, Khan said.
“We need to have these conversations and talk about not only the world of what we don’t want to have, which is a world full of sexual violence, but of the world we want to have, which is a world full of pleasure, consent and consent. good sex that are communicated. “