On February 26, McGill hosted a Forum on Consent where a number of campus groups, including the Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE), the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), and Queer McGill, put forward a proposal for a Sexual Assault Policy for the University. The proposed policy aims to fill the gap in how the University deals with sexual assault on campus – an issue that has consistently been neglected. McGill currently has an assault policy in place, but the University has yet to recognize the need for a separate sexual assault policy.
The proposed policy seeks to define consent, and outlines procedures to deal with sexual assault, including the hiring of a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, among other recommendations. The Daily supports the proposed policy and efforts from campus groups such as SACOMSS to combat rape culture on campus. This is a step toward making our campus a safer space for all those who are a part of it. By actively supporting this policy, members of the McGill community can show their support of dismantling rape culture in a concrete way.
On campus, rape culture reveals itself in insidious ways, from Frosh chants to the tacit acceptance of rape jokes. What’s more, there is a lack of concrete support for or acknowledgement of voices of survivors from the McGill community. The largest obstacle to addressing rape culture at McGill is the culture of denial that we live in. Earlier in the school year, the Montreal Gazette revealed that three members of the Redmen football team were charged in April 2012 with sexual assault and confinement of a Concordia student, yet were allowed to continue playing on the team. The University responded that it couldn’t act because the assault had happened off-campus, abdicating itself of responsibility. When asked about the sexual assault case in a recent interview with campus media, principal Suzanne Fortier was hesitant to address the case or speak in concrete terms about rape culture.
Initiatives on campus to combat rape culture have so far been predominantly student-led, which speaks to the administration’s denial that rape culture is a problem at McGill. While the work that has been done so far by students is extremely important, it needs to be supported by the administration in order to create institutional change at McGill. The University’s stance is reactionary; the only time it makes an effort is when it receives so much external criticism that it has no choice but to react. A letter from Ollivier Dyens, the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), outlining that the University does not tolerate sexual assault on campus, was sent in response to the open letter published by the campus groups last week.
While it is valuable that the University is willing to engage with these groups, its engagement is ultimately limited. Acknowledgment is different than action; the University needs to be proactive about instituting policies and procedures that will create an environment of acceptance for the voices of survivors. We can only smash rape culture when everyone, including those in power, tackles it head-on.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board