In April 2016, the McGill administration withdrew its support for the Sexual Assault Policy (SAP). Drafted over three years by an unpaid student working group, the SAP was a pro-survivor, intersectional policy created to address the fact that the University had no policy on sexual assault. In May, the administration announced that it would develop an entirely new policy through an ad hoc Senate committee, with the intention of presenting it to Senate in October, and having it approved in November. Today, the draft of this new Sexual Violence Policy (SVP) will be arriving in your inboxes. By all initial indications, it appears that the SVP draft will simply be a watered-down version of the SAP, with less focus on intersectionality and inclusive language, and lacking in meaningful student consultation.
One in five female undergraduate students will be sexually assaulted in the U.S.. But this statistic doesn’t tell the full story: sexual assault happens disproportionately to marginalized groups, like queer, trans, and disabled women and femmes, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and racialized. The McGill administration’s rejection of the SAP showed that despite claiming otherwise, they have no real commitment to making sure that the policy prioritizes the voices of those who have experienced sexual assault, and reflects the intersection of sexual assault and marginalized identities. Further, the issue of student-professor relationships has repeatedly been dismissed or ignored by members of the administration, despite being widely discussed by students over the past year.
Students have taken initiative to fill in the gaps where the University’s response to sexual assault has been glaringly inadequate. Two such student groups are the McGill chapter of Silence is Violence, launched this month, and the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), which has faced repeated relocation and threats to its existence. Time and again, students are shouldering the unpaid and emotionally taxing labour of sexual assault advocacy and response, and they are the only reason there’s even a discourse about sexual assault on campus.
Most of the work that is feasible for student groups – considering dwindling funding and little administrative support – consists of sexual assault prevention campaigns. while prevention campaigns are important, they’re used at McGill as a means for administrators to ignore the students who actually do get assaulted when the campaigns fail.
McGill needs a sexual assault policy that is accessible, intersectional, and protects and prioritizes those who have been assaulted. And since the administration has already gone ahead and created a draft that appears to lack student consultation and intersectionality, it’s our responsibility as students to push for greater consultation and accountability before the draft is brought to Senate in October. Students must make it clear to the administration that there is nothing – not McGill’s reputation, not the administration’s internal machinations, not feel-good prevention campaigns – that should take higher priority than the safety of those who have experienced sexual assault.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board