News  “Survivor-centric approach” must come first

Gendered & sexual violence policy report releases recommendations

Content Warning: sexual assault

In July 2018, McGill University’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP) Report was released to the public following a series of related events over the past year: the implementation of Bill 151, the open letter drafted by former Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP External Connor Spencer, Coordinator of mobilization for AVEQ Kristen Perry, and Co-Founder and National Chair of Our Turn, and the student walk-out organized last April. The drafting of the report also comes as a result of the numerous publicized gendered and sexual assault claims from the past two years. These instances include those against former VP External David Aird and former SSMU President Ben Ger in 2017 as well as most recently, the lawsuit against Assistant Professor Pasha Khan and McGill student Sarah Abdelshamy by former Assistant Professor Ahmed Fekry Ibrahim who was accused of sexual assault this past July.

The writers of the GSVP report are Caitlin Salvino, the coordinator, with Bee Khaleeli and Priya Dube, acting as advisors for the report. The report breaks down the history and continued advocacy of gendered and sexual assault and violence at McGill as well as recommendations to the administration to integrate into the GSVP.

On May 10, 2018, the Provost and Vice-Principal Professor Christopher P. Manfredi, also sent out an email to McGill students, faculty, and staff introducing the new Ad Hoc Senate Committee on Teaching Staff-Student Intimate Relationships headed by Chair, Sinead Hunt. The Committee is in charge of gathering online testimony where students and staff can either submit their personal opinions, or discuss their own lived experience(s) of sexual violence and assault which will be sent to the Chair. The committee is fairly confidential, due to it technically being under the McGill Senate, as a result the transparency of its progress is limited. However, a final report of the Committee’s work will be produced and shared publicly sometime during December 2018.

The Committee is in charge of gathering online testimony where students and staff can either submit their personal opinions, or discuss their own lived experience(s) of sexual violence and assault which will be sent to the Chair.

In addition to the Chair, the Committee is composed of three members of the academic staff, Professor Debra Titone (Psychology, faculty of Science), Professor Jean-Jacques Lebrun (Medicine, faculty of Medicine), and Professor Brian Lewis (History and Classical Studies, faculty of Arts). There are also three students, Safina Adatia (Medicine), Bee Khaleeli (Arts), Naomi Vingron (PhD program in Psychology) as well as two alternate student members who may substitute for a student member during Committee meetings.

Manfredi explained that until the work of the Ad Hoc committee is complete, the Guidelines on Intimate Relationships between Teaching Staff and Students, a more detailed draft of existing regulations and policies, would continue to be in place as the working policy at McGill. But this may still lead to some issues, as report advisor and student representative on the committee Bee Khaleeli said in a phone interview with the Daily: “the McGill Sexual Violence Policy it says that a relationship between a professor and their student is non-consensual but that isn’t necessarily [made clear] across the board and in other McGill policies […] [we need to be] explicit in what we expect from people”.

Khaleeli also explained that although the committee members are “not very representative of […] the people who are [generally] more vulnerable to sexual violence and more vulnerable to the abuses of power that produce the types of violence that this committee [typically] deal with” there is a high level of ‘consciousness’. The GSVP report emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that people of colour as well as those who identify as non-binary have experiences with sexual violence which oftentimes go unrecognized.

“I think that it’s very regrettable that the committee is a little bit more homogenous [but] I think that there is a consciousness [of this reality internally].”*

The report includes recommendations in terms of training members of the McGill community in “general anti-sexual violence training,” “in depth disclosure and investigation training,” as well as “training for members of the GSVP Committee.”

“I think that it’s very regrettable that the committee is a little bit more homogenous [but] I think that there is a consciousness [of this reality internally].”*

Khaleeli, the implementation coordinator of these training sessions, is also in charge of drafting the policy of training, as well as conducting “pilot sessions” with members of legislative counsel and SSMU executive members. Currently, only SSMU employees including members of the Board of Directors, and members of the legislative counsel are mandated to undergo training; however, there is a hope that in the upcoming year, training will be required for either five members or fifty percent of a club’s membership of all SSMU clubs and services.

The training sessions currently scheduled for this year will be approximately one and a half hour workshops that will be “very interactive because I think that it’s always more valuable to do a dialogue based peer to peer [interaction] rather than just lectur[ing] at someone,” says Khaleeli. These workshops will focus on “broadly defining sexual and gendered violence on a wider spectrum of what race culture produces and contextualizing that [with] various forms of oppression […] like racism, transphobia, transmisogyny, class relations.”

“It’s very much like a collaborative workshop […] just because I find that otherwise people don’t really gain as much […] it’s always good when people are producing the answers themselves,” explained Khaleeli.

Priya Dube also expressed a hopefulness about the training sessions. “I’m most hopeful about the bystander intervention component of the training process because then it creates a community of accountability where everybody participating in these spaces [whether it be] in a club be it [during] orientation week be it in a classroom be it in a study group […] you have become a part of a community of accountability.”

Bystander intervention, says Dube, is “the idea that we are all part of a broader community and everybody should be caring for one another and if you see something wrong and even if it’s not your friend and you don’t know that person you can tell right from wrong you’re a moral being who has that conscience [and] you should take action because of you don’t then who will.”

“[bystander intervention] creates a community of accountability where everybody participating in these spaces [whether it be] in a club be it [during] orientation week be it in a classroom be it in a study group you have become a part of a community of accountability.”

While the creation of the Committee, as well as the establishment of the Office for Sexual VIolence Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE) in March 2018, are important responses from the McGill administration as a result of last year’s events, both Khaleeli and Dube expressed the importance of further change.

“I think often it’s easy to feel like ‘oh this Committee happened so there has been an administrative solution so we are good’ but I think something that’s going to come out of this is also we cannot just produce a report with recommendations […] it needs to be received and taken into account and […] subsequent work needs to be done [and] needs to be identified,” says Khaleeli.

Dube explained how there is hope that more people in the McGill community will become involved in advocating for change with how sexual assault is currently handled at McGill.

“What was exceptionally interesting to me was how many people came out the day of the walkout [and who] did not participate in anything else and even though that showed solidarity and support and [was] very important I just wish that the community at large would make use of the spaces and channels available to them to actually advocate and make concrete changes and not just take a Snapchat about walking out of class.”

Dube went on to explain that “one of the three pillars of the report like support report and advocacy so the advocacy portion has an Our Turn Task Force it’s whole point is to educate raise awareness not only about the policy but about prevention measures [and] support measures really grassroots taking more action and I think that’ll give more opportunities to people to engage and be involved.”

“I just wish that the community at large would make use of the spaces and channels available to them to actually advocate and make concrete changes and not just take a Snapchat about walking out of class.”

“Ultimately I think it comes down to the people in the positions of power themselves” Dube continued, “[and these people] having the willingness to take a survivor-centric approach rather than a scandal-minimization approach so it’s a culture change that’s required.”

*original quote has been shortened to preserve confidentiality