Students slam the door of the committee on sexual violence

Three student groups representing 46,000 students at Concordia University slammed the door of the university’s Standing Committee on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence. They denounce poor handling of cases of harassment and sexual violence on campus and a closure in the face of their ideas to improve things.

“Concordia does not take our suggestions and criticisms of the sexual violence policy seriously,” said Becca Wilgosh, vice-president of the Concordia Teaching and Research Assistants Union (TRAC). Student representatives refer to it as a “last resort” gesture, following protests in 2018, 2019 and 2022 against the university’s handling of sexual harassment accusations. “There is no transparency, and the way the policy is written is not survivor-centric,” says Wilgosh.

Created in 2018, the Committee is made up of around fifteen people, including four students. Its mandate is to review and implement the university’s policy on sexual violence, to make recommendations to the board of directors and to coordinate the fight against sexual misconduct and violence on campus.

Margot Berner, who sat on the Committee for the year 2019-2020 as a representative of the Concordia Students’ Union, was not impressed during her visit. “There were discussions lasting several hours and, in the end, the president did not accept any suggestions from the students. »

“It was supposed to be a safe space for the students, but people were talking over them, rolling their eyes, looking at their phones. It was really disturbing, some were reduced to tears,” adds Margot, who is studying literature.

Students have been calling for change for some time. In April 2019, they held a rally to demand that Concordia set strict and faster deadlines for handling complaints, that the university increase transparency and that it pressure the provincial government to reassess laws. privacy laws that prevent institutions from disclosing details of the results of internal investigations into allegations. They also asked that the institution’s policy be self-contained, and easier to read, with more accessible terms, for people who have just experienced a traumatic event.

A waste of time, since they have the impression that nothing has changed, apart from a few “cosmetic” modifications. “Words have changed, regarding diversity and power dynamics. But the practices have not changed, ”drops Margot Berner.

An inconvenient deal

The students feel that it will be easier for them to make their voice heard outside the Committee, especially because the representatives who sit on it are forced to sign a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement which prevents them from talking about the discussions taking place there.

“The Committee lacks transparency, and signing such a document prevents us from transmitting information to our members. Everything is kept silent, and that goes against our mandates,” says Mathilde LaRoche, a master’s student in geography who has just been appointed TRAC representative on the Committee.

Student representatives also have a bitter taste of Concordia University’s handling of the case of a philosophy professor targeted by allegations of sexual harassment who is still in office.

“We want to see teaching assistants allowed not to work for teachers accused of sexual abuse,” said Nelson Graves, the philosophy program representative at TRAC. Believing that the problem has been swept under the carpet, the group has been campaigning for a year to change things. “Our department has a history of sexual violence,” he adds, denouncing a lack of transparency in this regard.

Scheduled meeting

Joined by The dutyConcordia University indicated that it had been informed by a message of the withdrawal of the student representatives last Friday, shortly before the first meeting held by the Committee following the start of the school year.

” This one [le message] did not give the reasons for this withdrawal, nor had it been raised during the completion of student representation with the Committee in August,” spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said in an email.

She said a meeting with student representatives is scheduled for next week, during which Concordia hopes “to be able to discuss their concerns and find a way forward.”

However, the students do not intend to return to the Committee “in the near future”. “We believe that major structural changes are needed, particularly in terms of transparency, emphasizes Becca Wilgosh. The university has also shown that it cares more about its reputation than doing justice. »

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Students slam the door of the committee on sexual violence