A fully-funded sexual assault centre on a university campus must not be thought of as an optional extra. Yet the current fee-renewal referendum for the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) suggests that, on this campus, the opposite is true.
SACOMSS is the sole resource at McGill dedicated to survivors of sexual assault, providing a safe, pro-survivor, and anti-oppressive space that offers confidential and non-judgemental support. The centre is also open to the wider public and is an explicitly pro-trans* sexual assault centre. SACOMSS, which is entirely student-funded by a $0.75 per semester fee, is volunteer-run and provides all its services, including a confidential sexual assault helpline and support group program, free of charge.
By asking students to repeatedly reaffirm their commitment to SACOMSS, McGill asserts that the provision of quality services for survivors of sexual assault is none of its concern, and that the non-existence of these services is a real possibility. This might not be surprising to many: in an interview with The Daily last week, Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White commented that the University has services that aid students in crisis and survivors of sexual assault, but none of the services she cited are explicitly dedicated to survivors of sexual assault, showing McGill’s profound lack of understanding of the specialized training and sensitivity with which the issue needs to be approached.
In 2005, the administration evicted SACOMSS from its office in Peterson Hall, and in 2006, McGill forced SACOMSS out of its night office, expressing concern “that it could be held liable for inappropriate advice given by student volunteers.” Those evictions came after the University forced the organization to change its name from the McGill Sexual Assault Centre (MSAC) to SACOMSS. McGill consistently shows a lack of respect for SACOMSS, and thus that it does not treat the issue of sexual assault with adequate seriousness.
Yet the University has not hesitated to direct its own employees to SACOMSS, whose Advocacy Branch supports students, staff, and faculty in navigating the University’s complex sexual harassment and discrimination policy, advocating on their behalf to ensure their rights are respected and their needs are addressed. This implicit recognition that SACOMSS is not an optional student service, but an essential resource for the entire McGill and Montreal community, must now be backed by action. McGill should commit to funding SACOMSS – that it does not already do so is shameful enough – and must stop asking the centre to funnel time and resources into needless referendum campaigns that only hinder its operations.
In the meantime, The Daily calls on the new SSMU executives to incorporate SACOMSS into the SSMU base fee, just as the McGill Student Emergency Response Team’s (M-SERT) fee is, so that the centre can avoid facing the ballot box every three years, and the McGill and Montreal community continues to have access to one of its most important resources.
— The McGill Daily Editorial Board