On August 30, McGill’s new Dean of Students Christopher Buddle sat down with The Daily to talk about his new position, supporting Indigenous students, working on a new sexual assault policy, and improving McGill’s mental health and counselling services.
The McGill Daily (MD): What will be your main priority during your tenure as Dean of Students?
Christopher Buddle (CB): One of them is certainly […] helping develop the Sexual Violence Policy. […] We [also] hope by the end of the academic year to be looking at a modernization of the Charter of Student Rights.
MD: How do you believe your background will help you in this position?
CB: I don’t know how well you know [Macdonald Campus], but it’s a small community. It’s a little microcosm of McGill, which I think allowed me as Associate Dean to really get a handle on different parts of student affairs, everything from crisis management to academic accommodations, and everything in between. So I was involved in a lot of that, which I think will help in this position.
MD: One of the main responsibilities of the Dean of Students is to craft disciplinary policies. How are you planning to approach this?
CB: I’ve worked with [the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures] a lot in the past on different avenues of student discipline. I believe the code does a very good job at protecting student rights, and I think it’s clear in many ways. […] But I think what’s more important is that we clarify to our community the process of student discipline. That includes a lot of communication with instructors around how to approach academic integrity, so that, for example, we don’t want students penalized for plagiarism […] unfairly. We want them to use the Code of Conduct because that actually allows a process that is independent of the instructor, which is really, really valuable.
MD: At the Divest McGill sit-in in April of this year, former Dean of Students André Costopoulos seemed to support the activists. How will you work with student activists, and liaise between them and the administration?
CB: I think in many ways [I’ll be] similar to the previous Dean of Students. There’s no reason to be heavy handed about these things at all. Students have a right to protest, and activism is an important part of [McGill]. We’re an institution of higher learning, we welcome debate on our campus, so that’s going to create situations where there will be protests or activism occurring. […] I think the principles that André Costopoulos always held very strongly – and that I will as well – is that we have to respect private spaces on campus, and we have to respect the rights of our students in terms of their access, in terms of getting to their classes and access to their education. But beyond that, it’s always about dialogue, being very open and clear around being respectful.
MD: Part of your portfolio includes chairing the Aboriginal Affairs Work Group. What initiatives are you working on to support First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students?
CB: I think it’s a really exciting year for Indigenous affairs. I mean with [Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Christopher Manfredi’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education], a very clear and visible commitment to Indigenous affairs at McGill, it’s going to help immensely for a few reasons. One is that it is about visibility. […] My understanding […] is that many students aren’t identifying as Indigenous, and that might be about visibility, being sure that what we offer as an institution and [our] support is very visible.
MD: There has been rising concern about sexual assault on campuses across Canada. How do you plan to work with both the administration and students to make students feel safer?
CB: I think we’ve come a long way in terms of awareness, education, prevention, for sure. Do we have more to do? Of course – we always do. […] My office has a role to play in […] the process related to the Sexual Violence Policy. So I think we have to be crystal clear to our community about how survivors of sexual violence navigate our systems, which can be complex. I think by having a very clear process outlined, that in turn is going to help with the community recognizing that we are being proactive around supporting survivors, which in turn will help overall feedback and education and awareness about this.
MD: Earlier this year, Dean Costopoulos and Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures, and Equity) Angela Campbell withdrew their support for the student-drafted Sexual Assault Policy. What do you think about this withdrawal of support, and how will you work with students in the future to implement a new policy?
CB: I’m not going to speak to the withdrawal of support, whether it did or didn’t happen; I wasn’t involved. […] The Provost announced there would be a new Sexual Violence Policy that’s being developed through his office and with Angela Campbell’s leadership. [The policy has] been very broadly consulted this summer, and it’s going to go for a community-wide consultation in September. That gives an opportunity for more of the community to look at it and give feedback. I know, from what I’ve seen, the feedback has been taken very seriously and it’s been integrated as much as possible into the new policy.
I think it’s tremendous and I think we’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. I know that’s cold comfort for some that worked on it for a lot of years, I recognize that. But […] I think we’ve come a tremendous way in a short period of time because that foundational work was there. But it’s [only] a starting point, right? Policy is not a silver bullet to all problems on campus – it’s one piece that has to be there. […] So I think that’s really important to me, that we’re very clear in the ways that we support survivors and the ways that we recognize that policy as a vehicle towards other policies that provide, say, disciplinary action if that’s required.
Many, many universities around the world are developing policies, and I recognize that, and it’s tricky. There’s no denying it’s very tricky to develop policies because it’s balancing the support systems in place for the survivors as well as procedural equity. So there is a balance there that we need to find. I’m very, very optimistic that this policy addresses both effectively. I’m very optimistic about it, and I’m really pleased that our office has a role to play in there because […] we play a role in the well-being of our students, and supporting survivors. Helping survivors navigate the complex McGill policies is something that we have a role to play in.
MD: There has also been student discontent with McGill’s mental health services and disability accommodation. There are rumours that mental health and counselling services will be combined. What can you tell us about that? How do you plan to improve upon McGill’s ability to accommodate and support students?
CB: I was chair of the Cyclical Review of Students Services and one of our recommendations was looking at the health services broadly, and looking at how students enter that system. […] I’m not in a position to announce any specific changes, […] but you’re right, change is coming. I think everyone recognizes that there’s a need for that. […] Our office has always played a role of facilitation and mediation around accommodation and we’re going to keep doing that. […] Our goal is to get students to the right places as soon as possible. I think everyone agrees that that’s an overriding goal. Sometimes it’s slower than it should be for good reasons and sometimes for no good reason, so let’s clean it up.
MD: What is one thing you’d like to say to students as the school year gets underway?
CB: Good question. I’ve thought a lot about this. I think the idea that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. […] For students, when those first midterm grades come back, it may not be as great as hoped. It can be tough and […] there’s going to be ups and down. So pace, self-awareness, self-reflection, I think is really important to do regularly, and [it’s also important to] recognize that there’s a lot of support systems out there. But the more proactive we as a community can be, the better. […] When there are opportunities to reach out, I want students to know that we are there, and that we want to help. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint.