Content warning: mentions of sexual violence, gender-based discrimination
McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence, instated in 2016, is up for review this month. Yet the university has failed to communicate this to the community – a reflection of its policies and culture of silence regarding gendered and sexual violence. One thing is clear: when it comes to gendered and sexual violence, McGill and its institutions fail to protect, support, and compensate survivors.
A Daily article published March 21, titled “‘No one reached out to me’: A survivor’s experience reporting sexual assault on campus,” describes the shortcomings that Alice*, a survivor of sexual assault, faced in seeking insitutional support from McGill. She recounts learning that her counsellor at the Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE) would no longer have time to see her, how she was not notified about being unable to receive support upon leaving Quebec at the onset of the pandemic, and that she was not informed of other resources to turn to for support. Alice told the Daily that OSVRSE “[is] survivor-centric, but limited because of the resources that they have.” It is unacceptable that OSVRSE, defined by the university’s Procedure for the Investigation of Reports of Sexual Violence as the primary facilitator of support for survivors and respondents, is not granted adequate resources and oversight. If McGill truly cared about honouring survivors in cases of sexual assault, they would ensure that OSVRSE is properly equipped to provide necessary care, communication, and support. The repeated cases of survivors receiving inconsistent support from university services demonstrate a lack of adequate funding and attention from administration for services students need.
Alice explained that the university assured her that she would not encounter her abuser on campus. Yet, Alice reported seeing known abusers on several occasions at different university events. Alice’s experience demonstrates the re-traumatization that can result from seeing abusers on campus, and highlights how McGill fails to provide support to survivors due to Quebec’s stringent privacy laws. While the university is bound by these regulations and is unable to share details of abusers’ identities with student unions, their silence in regard to these laws speaks volumes.
While SSMU is not under McGill’s jurisdiction, another article published in the Daily this week describes a disturbing reality for those who have experienced gender-based discrimination in the organization. SSMU President Darshan Daryanani was suspended from his position in September 2021 before being reinstated in February 2022; in “Investigation Against Daryanani Botched,” sources allege Daryanani was suspended for allegations of sexism and psychological harassment. An ensuing HR investigation did not interview all the women who reported “feeling uncomfortable or unsafe working with Daryanani,” failing to support and validate the experiences of those harmed by such gender-based discrimination. It’s important to note that Daryanani is not facing allegations of sexual violence – nonetheless, his reinstatement risks the safety of women and gender minorities at SSMU, as testified by representatives in the February 17 Legislative Council meeting and subsequent consultative forum. Allegedly, SSMU has offered accommodations to those who expressed discomfort with Daryanani’s return; doing so acknowledges the harm enacted by reinstating the President, and that it’s “clearly [not] fine,” as pointed out by one source. However, offers for “accommodations” do little to feasibly protect women and gender minorities from Daryanani’s alleged acts of gender-based discrimination, as many executives are mandated to attend the same meetings as him. Overall, Daryanani’s reinstatement signifies a complete failure in the investigation and validation of the allegations and a disregard for the continued safety and well-being of women and gender minorities working at SSMU.
These two examples, although differing in jurisdiction and scope, reveal the continued failures of the McGill administration and SSMU to support and protect survivors of sexual and gendered violence. SSMU must reckon with the prevalence of gender-based discrimination in the organization and act accordingly to support those affected by it. To say that survivors speaking out against such violence have “personal grudges,” as an anonymous SSMU director expressed in an email to the Daily, is not only inaccurate but incredibly harmful and dismissive of the experiences and trauma of survivors. Future executives must be familiar with and lobby for policies that protect survivors, such as SSMU’s Involvement Restrictions Policy, which restricts abusers from attending campus events. The failure of all three of this year’s VP Internal candidates to speak to this policy in election interviews is worrying; staff and executives tasked with event planning must prioritize the safety and well-being of survivors of sexual and gendered violence.
At the administrative level, the failure of the university thus far to solicit student feedback in the renewal of the Policy Against Sexual Violence, much less communicate its renewal to the community, is troubling. By doing so, the university is ignoring the needs and input of survivors, whose safety the policy should prioritize. The university should serve as a model for student-led institutions such as SSMU, and they are failing to do so.
As the Policy Against Sexual Violence is up for renewal, advocate for the university to strengthen its commitment to supporting and protecting survivors through structural change. Call for more funding to OSVRSE and the implementation of policies that support survivors throughout their experiences. If the university opens channels for student feedback regarding the policy, participate and advocate for such improvements. Additionally, encourage the university to use their institutional power to campaign against restrictive privacy laws in Quebec that harm survivors, such as the “code of silence.”
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence or harassment and needs support, you can contact:
- Office for Sexual Violence Response, Support, and Education (OSVRSE)
- Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS)
- Reporting Sexual Violence
- Sexual Violence Support
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.