content warning: sexual violence
As of September 23, all students have access to McGill’s new consent-focused sexual violence prevention program, “It Takes All of Us.” It is recommended that students go through the 45-minute program in one sitting. The program stops playing if the viewer leaves the webpage, but this does not prevent students from leaving the page open while they do something else. Each page features a pause button allowing students to stop the program momentarily if overwhelmed. However, students have noticed that all of the sections are skippable, allowing them to complete the program in mere minutes. Furthermore, the consequences for not completing the program – placing a hold on add-drop functions – do not affect students who have already registered for their winter courses or are graduating at the end of this semester.
The program presents valuable statistics and a generally healthy and realistic understanding of sex and consent. For students whose backgrounds do not include sex education, or who have a less comprehensive understanding of consent, “It Takes All of Us” could serve as a valuable introduction to respectful sexual interactions. But it is just that – an introduction. In order to be truly effective, McGill must follow up with the tangible support that it is not currently providing.
A 45-minute online program cannot, and will not, solve McGill’s sexual violence problem. The program’s stated goal is to “increase awareness of social violence in order to shift campus culture to one of respect and consent.” Sexual violence is not a secret epidemic – certainly not on a university campus, and assuredly not at McGill. The Campus Climate Survey Validation Study showed that an average of one in ten (and up to one in five) undergraduate women experience sexual assault in just one academic year. However, this estimate is conservative; these numbers are higher for LGBTQ+ people and people of colour, with Indigenous people facing almost triple the amount of sexual violence as non-Indigenous people. We are past the stage of raising awareness. We need meaningful action now.
“It Takes All of Us” is mandatory for teaching staff and administrators as well, but the consequences of failing to complete the program are unclear, and multiple professors report that they have not yet been notified of these requirements. According to the program’s FAQ, the module for teaching staff and administrators will not be available until January 2020, over six months after its initial release.
Over the past several years, McGill has shown repeated disrespect for students’ calls for a safer and better-informed campus environment, and has consistently failed to implement effective plans to combat sexual violence. The University’s first Sexual Violence Policy (SVP), which was only adopted in 2016, was not well-received by student groups, namely for not being pro-survivor and not providing adequate resources to report sexual violence. Prior to this, the University did not have an official policy and referred only to the Student Code of Conduct. On January 1, 2019, McGill missed the deadline to adopt an updated policy in compliance with Bill 151, a province-wide requirement on post-secondary sexual violence policies. By not providing compulsory training for all university officials, among other failures, McGill’s current SVP still does not comply with Bill 151 – which also needs improvement.
Prior to and during its implementation, students and student groups, including the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), have expressed their issues with the updated SVP. Their concerns have been “consistently met with hostility and disparagement” by the administration, according to multiple open letters. These examples, which are by no means exhaustive, are indicative of McGill’s complete disregard for students and their needs, and for creating the community of “consent and respect” the administration claims to support.
Before McGill proclaims that “it takes all of us,” and that it’s our “communal” responsibility, the institution must do its part to address systemic imbalances of power that perpetuate sexual violence. As it stands, the burden of care falls on students who are forced to rely on whisper networks to protect themselves. McGill must provide adequate support for survivors of sexual violence, it must believe and encourage belief of survivors, and it absolutely must provide non-traumatic services for those who come forward. McGill’s administration gains social capital from student-run services such as SACOMSS, and from incredibly sensitive and effective in-person workshops like those run by Our Shared Spaces, despite having no active role in creating or running these programs. Real people leading workshops are able to accommodate survivors and their comfort zones, and to directly confront potential abusers and their internalized violent ideas.
As a student body, we must pressure McGill to provide adequate resources. A revamped “It Takes All of Us” could potentially serve as an introduction to the topic, but in-person follow-up sessions are necessary. We can pressure the administration to do better: send your criticisms and opinions to Angela Campbell, Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Call or write to provincial representatives, specifically Hélène David (sponsor of Bill 151), and encourage them to push for more comprehensive sexual violence programs on university campuses, and to improve the content and enforcement of Bill 151. If you or anyone you know is struggling due to sexual violence, consider reaching out to SACOMSS.
This editorial was originally published in print on September 30, 2019.