Commentary  Letters

Resources available to deal with sexual harassment and abuse of power

Re: “Let’s talk about teacher” (September 1, Features, page 11).

Dear Former Student,

My priority is student safety and well-being. I know that it isn’t easy to share a personal story. I want to extend my office’s support to you, and offer to help you figure out what your options and rights are in this situation.

There are additional relevant policies that were not identified in your article, but that we can help you explore such as the Regulation on Conflict of Interest.

To the other students who may be reading this, if you find yourself in an unwelcome or difficult situation, please know that you do not have to go through this alone. My office is always available to you. We will preserve your anonymity as completely as possible, and we will help you explore your options.

As mentioned in the article, acts of sexual harassment are covered by McGill’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Prohibited by Law. Allegations of breaches of this policy are handled by Harassment Assessors.

If you have any questions or concerns about the reporting process, the Office of the Dean of Students or the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) both offer support, information and accompaniment through the process.

—Andre Costopoulos, Dean of Students

The trouble with legal consent

I am writing in response to the anonymous article, “Let’s talk about teacher” (September 1, Features, page 11), in which a recent McGill graduate tells of an extended affair with a McGill professor. With admirable candor, she explains how it went from bad to worse and left her feeling cornered, alone, and even threatened. I also want to draw attention to the response by the Dean of Students, Andre Costopoulos, who notes that there are indeed resources on campus to help with such predicaments.

If the professor were to tell his side of the story, he would no doubt focus on the apparent fact that no one ever said no. No physical coercion was ever involved. Two adults had sex, period. As for non-physical forms of intimidation or manipulation, those are devilishly hard to define, and thus to codify. As such, our professor might well find his way out of the mess he created, another notch on his belt.

All of which points out the profound inadequacies of ‘consent’ as a moral and social category for a decent society. Consent is better than coercion: that is the best thing we can say about it. Otherwise it only asks what one person can persuade another person to do, without any concern for where they came from, what they need, and who they are. It takes the humanity out of human interactions. Worse, it pretends that the two parties are equal, and then insists that they deal with the consequences. It is a burlesque on equality that tends to suffocate the real thing and to favour those who care the least about anyone but themselves.

I have no wish to pry into the sex lives of my less admirable colleagues. But I do think that McGill should consider a clearer policy that identifies such relationships as inherently unequal, if not predatory. Even if everyone consented.

—Jason M. Opal, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director, History and Classical Studies