News | Administrators withdraw support from Sexual Assault Policy draft

Student-led working group condemns University’s reluctance to include intersectionality

On April 7, the Sexual Assault Policy Working Group published an open letter to condemn the McGill administration’s refusal to support the final draft of the Sexual Assault Policy (SAP), which has been in development since 2013. On March 22, Dean of Students André Costopoulos and Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Angela Campbell informed the working group that they would not be bringing the policy to Senate for approval. Without their support, it would be nearly impossible to have Senate adopt the policy.

The open letter has over 1,300 signatures at the time of this article’s publication. The letter reads, “The administration’s refusal sends a clear message that McGill does not support survivors of sexual assault and is unwilling to commit the resources required to adequately support survivors and address sexual violence on campus.”

The demands of the working group include hiring additional staff dedicated to sexual assault prevention and response, a transparent and collaborative review process for determining the best sets of policies for supporting survivors, and forming an ad-hoc Senate committee with student-staff parity to pass “a pro-survivor, proactive, accessible, and intersectional sexual assault policy” before the end of 2016.

“For him to turn around and say he does not support it in this iteration was surprising, and incredibly disappointing.”

Cecilia MacArthur, a member of the working group, told The Daily that she was frustrated that the administration has used their labour to bolster their own image in the past two years.

“There were definitely benefits for them in purporting to support the policy all along; considering in any article written about sexual assault across Canada, McGill was always cited as ‘developing a policy,’ or something along those lines,” MacArthur wrote in an email to The Daily. “But the administration – namely [Costopoulos] – also made concrete commitments in the past […] so for him to turn around and say he does not support it in this iteration was surprising, and incredibly disappointing.”

According to the open letter, the administration has instead offered an “aspirational document,” a one-page outline of a policy prepared by Costopoulos, as a compromise. However, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke told The Daily that the document is “very watered down and nonspecific.” The alternative to the “aspirational policy” would be developing an entirely new policy through an ad-hoc committee of Senate.

Among the administration’s objections is the incorporation of intersectionality in the policy. Intersectionality, according to the SAP, “is an approach which recognizes that individuals may experience oppression differently due to their membership in different social and cultural groups.” In accordance with this recognition, SAP includes the right “to have access to resources that accommodate [one’s] particular experiences and identities” among the list of rights survivors should be provided.

In an email to The Daily, Campbell explained her objection to the current incorporation of intersectionality in the SAP.

“For her to say she tried to work on intersectionality with us is truly a mystery to me.”

Campbell said, “Incorporation [of intersectionality] into any policy or procedure must be done carefully and responsibly to ensure that the interests of all equity-seeking groups, especially those affected by intersectionality, are identified and foregrounded.”

“The University did not reject the integration of intersectionality within a policy addressing sexual assault, but in dialogue with the working group, indicated that more work and discussion are required to accomplish the goals set above,” Campbell continued.

While the administration has been in touch with media about the SAP open letter, according to Talia Gruber, another member of the working group, it has not reached out to the working group itself.

“The only meeting [Campbell] ever came to was this last one [on March 22]. We invited her to at least three other meetings which she did not attend,” Gruber told The Daily in an interview. “So for her to say she tried to work on intersectionality with us is truly a mystery to me. The only time she even brought it up was at the last meeting to justify not passing the policy.”

“We intentionally named people to ensure that they are adequately represented in the policy and in all measures within it.”

At the March 22 meeting, Campbell objected to naming historically marginalized groups in the SAP. Gruber told the Daily that the inclusion of these terms is important for the working group.

“We intentionally named people to ensure that they are adequately represented in the policy and in all measures within it,” Gruber said.

Campbell has also objected to including a definition of consent in the policy that could potentially conflict with the legal definition of consent. However, according to the working group, McGill Legal Services has already approved this use and other universities have included a definition of consent in their policies.

Gruber mentioned to The Daily that the working group was willing to let go of its request for the addition of another staff member for responding to sexual violence on campus.

“All the things admin are saying they can’t have in the policy are all things that the working group openly agreed to take out or change. The problem isn’t those things – it’s just an unwillingness to fight for a policy created ‘untraditionally,’ i.e. not through Senate,” Gruber said. “The only things we really didn’t agree to change were the intersectionality bits and the pro-survivor [clauses].”