Commentary | Student representatives on the administration response to sexual violence

Open letter to the McGill administration

Content warning: Sexual violence, assault 

Dear Principal Suzanne Fortier,

Senior Administration of McGill University,

Following the events leading up to and surrounding the resignation of SSMU Vice-President (External) David Aird, we have serious concerns for the safety of the McGill community. We hope you will take our concerns seriously and respond accordingly. The lack of action from the McGill Administration, an important and powerful body within this institution, has failed in aptly recognizing a systematic and collective inadequacy, and thus has failed at fostering a safe and positive growing space and community. We do not feel that the letter sent by the administration on February 25, 2017 adequately responds to this issue. To state that the university is continuing its efforts to raise awareness on sexual violence does not tell us much, especially because the individual in question had consent, anti-oppression, and anti-violence training. Students are not strangers to the silence surrounding incidents of sexual assault and harassment on this campus. This institution, where we are encouraged to challenge our minds with the knowledge of world-class faculty and professors, is regrettably drowned with fear of exposure and vulnerability in exchange for little protection to our safety. The mishandling of the situation regarding the SSMU VP (External) David Aird is not something that our community can take lightly. The period leading up to his resignation was inappropriately long for the survivors. Students regularly raised their discomfort with the individual, but their concerns were ignored and not taken seriously. As councillors sitting on the SSMU Legislative Council, we witnessed the number of survivors who spoke up, and there are far too many to deem this campus safe. There are numerous survivors of sexual (assault/harassment) and gendered violence who bravely walk this campus everyday without revealing the harm they have experienced or continue to experience. There are even more who have left this place with an education on a piece of paper and a broken soul.

For someone in such a position of influence, authority and power such as the SSMU VP (External), it is regrettable to see how little attention and involvement the Administration put into taking the necessary measures to provide safety and support to the survivors, and to remove this individual from their position. We recognize the insufficiency of the SSMU executive team in the handling of their response, and it is one that weighs heavily on all of us. However, their accountability is not ample to bring closure to this matter. The problem of sexual violence is not limited to the SSMU; it affects everyone on campus, especially those survivors that have come forth. Principal Fortier, the administration is accountable to every one of its students and shoulders the burden of the responsibility to take action. The silence from the Administration throughout this process is alarming. It speaks to a much deeper issue on this campus, grounded in the systemic unwillingness to look inwards and uncover the reality of the survivor voice being masked by negligence. The University has no right to pick and choose which student matters to become involved in, and on which to remain silent. Being selective about the types of violence the University wishes to address is unjust and problematic. We owe it to our constituents, just as you owe it to your students, to deliver the same level of consideration in this matter. We believe there lies a severe trust to be rebuilt, as students of this University, in the safety of this space we call McGill. Please understand the necessity for immediate actions when a survivor shares their experience.

We understand the shortcomings of sexual violence resolutions which the institution and its members need to improve on in order to move forward towards a better campus. We have not lost faith. Grandescunt Aucta Labore, “By work, all things increase and grow.” The Administration has the power to lead this institution out of it’s the current distressed state. As Elie Wiesel strongly stated, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Further, as students and representatives of this University, we are ready to collaborate with the Administration in working for a safer campus, free of fear in speaking out against harm. However, we also expect the Administration to listen and address these concerns whole heartedly. To conclude, Principal Fortier, this is not a call for an apology. This is not a call for the University’s sympathy. This is a call for solidarity and a call for action. To this end, we ask that the following actions to be taken as a start to this collaboration:

1) Letter issued by the Administration addressing the resignation of the SSMU VP (External) and the acknowledgement of the braveness of the survivors despite the harm that they went through.

2) To emphasize section 8 of the sexual violence policy and push the active working group to hold workshops and presentations concerning sexual violence at McGill residences and campus as a whole for the remainder of the semester.

3) In addition we are requesting the AAA- Academic Integrity Tutorial, completed by all entry level students at McGill University; to encompass questions on the necessity of consent for harm prevention, sexual assault and McGill’s sexual violence policy.

4) The CDN’s demands in their statement to be followed and adopted by the Administration.

5) To take direct measures to ensure the continued safety of students and survivors on and around campus (ex: timely disclosures, safety planning, screening of executives, section changes, etc.).

Respectfully,

SSMU Legislative Councillors:

Yue Jiao, Athletics Representative to SSMU, Martlet Track and Field;

Romita Sur, Law Representative to SSMU, VP External Law Students Association;

Jasmine Segal, Social Work Representative to SSMU, VP External Social Work Student

Association;

Buland Junejo, Clubs Representative to SSMU;

Marco Sgro, Education Representative to SSMU;

Kevin Zhou, First Year Representative to SSMU; VP External First Year Council;

Joshua Chin, Senate Caucus Representative to SSMU, Medicine Senator;

Maria Thomas, Arts Representative to SSMU, Faculty of Arts;

Kia Kouyoumjian, Arts Representative to SSMU, VP External Arts Undergraduate Society;

Tre Mansdoerfer, Engineering Representative to SSMU;

Caitlin Mehrotra, Science Representative to SSMU;

Isabella Anderson, Arts Representative to SSMU;

Sarah Wu, Science Representative to SSMU;

Anoosh Poorian, Science Representative to SSMU;

Mariam Madwar, Management Representative to SSMU;

Mckenzie Gingrich-Hadley, Nursing Representative to SSMU; VP External Nursing

Undergraduate Society;

Tristan Renondin, Engineering Representative to SSMU;

Adam Templer, Clubs Representative to SSMU, p.p

If you support our statement and stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault, please sign here.


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