Students mobilize due to their disturbing research results

Karly Rath, 2015 Graduate of the Journalism program, Laurier Brantford

With the cases of Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi plastered in the news over the last year, rape culture has been in the public eye more than ever. In Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2015 Action Plan, “It’s Never Okay,” there is an emphasis on the importance of university policy in eliminating sexual violence on Ontario campuses.

In the fall of 2014, Laurier students Brittany Bennett, Taylor Berzins, Layla Bozich, Karly Rath, Nadine Saba and Neha Soni conducted a research project for a Digital Media and Journalism class exploring how WLU compares to other Ontario universities in its effort to combat sexual violence. This issue is particularly important and relevant because Laurier is seen as a key player in spearheading a provincial response to sexual violence on campuses. President Max Blouw is the chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, and WLU Vice-President of Student Affairs David McMurray is chair of the COU’s Reference Group addressing issues of sexual violence. Despite Laurier’s leadership, the students’ research found that Laurier fell short—shamefully short—of the Ontario Women’s Directorate’s recommendations about how universities should prevent and respond to sexual violence.

While a summary of the study’s results are presented here, it is important to note that this data will soon be outdated. Inspired by their findings, the students formed the Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent, and have since worked with others to develop a new policy and protocol, which will go before Senate next month.

Does Laurier have a consent culture or rape culture? Contextual Insights

Social media helps illustrate the culture on campus by showing conversations of student life outside of academic settings. A scan of social media revealed that Laurier students felt that not enough was being done by the university to combat sexual violence on campus. For instance, Not My Laurier and End the Silence Laurier are groups formed by Laurier students trying to end sexual and/or gendered violence. A review of Spotted at Laurier, a general Facebook page with thousands of “Likes,” revealed students calling out peers who post or make comments that perpetuate rape culture, slut-shame or victim-blame. There are many educated, progressive students talking about and mobilizing around this issue.

Interviewing key players (people holding positions of power at Laurier who are remaining anonymous) revealed that student leaders witnessed sexual violence and did not intervene, nor did they know what actions to take after the incidences. As well, many of the university’s attempts to address sexual violence were limited to initiatives that put the onus on women to prevent the violence: the university hosted rape self-defense classes and Special Constables have distributed rape whistles during Orientation Week. Rape culture was clearly rampant at Laurier, and the response to it was vastly underwhelming.

What’s the media not talking about?

A content analysis of 51 Canadian news articles, 17 of which were from university newspapers, that covered incidences or discussions of rape culture revealed the following frequency of two sets of words:

  1. Victim- or incident-central words appeared 519 times. These include:
  • Victim
  • Blame
  • Rape
  • Rape culture
  • Sexual assault
  • Assault
  • Harassment
  • Survivor
  1. Consequence-central words appeared 103 times. These include:
  • Punish
  • Suspend
  • Apprehend
  • Penalty
  • Expel
  • Charge
  • Sentence

This analysis results in a ratio of approximately 5:1, meaning news articles hardly cover the punishment of the offender. Although there may be legal or journalistic reasons for this, the fact remains that readers most often find out about the sexual assault, but not that the offenders are being held accountable.

University Policy: A sad state of affairs

An analysis of policies from all 20 Ontario universities that reviewed the 19 variables listed below revealed just how poorly Laurier measured up. The variables are derived from Developing a Response to Sexual Violence, a comprehensive, practical guide created by the Ontario Women’s Directorate in collaboration with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and many sexual assault centres, counselling services and administrators.

Variable Fulfilled  Total Number of Universities Percentage of Total Universities
Is there a policy strictly on sexual violence? 6 30%
Is “sexual assault” defined? 3 15%
Is “sexual harassment” defined? 17 85%
Is “rape” defined? 0 0%
Is “rape culture” defined? 0 0%
Is “consent” properly defined? 0 0%
Is “Sexual/gender violence” defined? 1 5%
Is there education on role of alcohol in sexual assaults? 0 0%
Are audits conducted to assess campus climate? 1 5%
Are the rights of survivors properly stated? 1 5%
Is there a campus alert in place with no suggestion of victim blaming? 0 0%
Do they state that relationship status does not mean sexual assault cannot happen? 2 10%
Is stalking explicitly deemed unacceptable? 4 20%
Is voyeurism explicitly deemed unacceptable? 2 10%
Is cyber harassment explicitly deemed unacceptable? 1 5%
Are degrading sexual imagery or involuntary indecent photos explicitly deemed unacceptable? 7 35%
Is there a comprehensive Local Services Listing? 3 15%
Are staff and faculty trained on how to respond to sexual violence incidents? 7 35%
Is there a sexual violence response team that is specifically trained to deal with incidents of sexual violence on campus? 5 25%

To highlight the most egregious findings:

  • University-wide average in fulfilling variables: 3 out of 19 (15.8%)
  • Universities properly defining rape, rape culture or consent: Zero
  • Universities providing official education on alcohol and drugs, or issuing campus alerts: Zero
  • Variables that are mentioned by more than half the universities: One (definition of sexual harassment)

These conclusions determined that Ontario campuses are not doing nearly enough, and the popular Toronto Star’s investigation into this same issue that was published shortly after this research was completed agreed. Canada finally started to pay attention.

A Lens on Laurier

The study examined the following of Laurier’s policies: Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, Safe Disclosure and the Student Code of Conduct and Discipline. Of the 19 variables, WLU only fulfills one: Laurier properly defines sexual harassment.

Creating a policy Laurier can be proud of

The students, some of whom are now alumni, of the Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent took it upon themselves to get the ball rolling in creating an independent Gendered and Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Policy and Protocol for WLU. Now, in collaboration with the Gendered Violence Taskforce and other internal partners, ASCC has createdthe first of its kind. The policy, which will be presented and voted upon by WLU Senate and Board of Governors this November, fulfills all of the Directorate’s recommendations. The Policy and Protocol will be the foundation for change at WLU: once implemented, everyone will be mandated to do their part in preventing sexual violence, and survivors will be compassionately supported. ASCC is also working on a consent campaign called “Consent is Golden: Do you get it?” that will be launched on all three campuses soon.

The Laurier community yearns for change. All students, staff, faculty, or anyone else involved with Laurier deserves to live in a culture of consent. Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent is working to eliminate sexual violence on university campuses, starting with the one closest to home.

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1 Response to Students mobilize due to their disturbing research results

  1. Rick Turnbull says:

    A great legal mind and you blew the chance. I am against all forms of male violence against women (and children) but you need to slow down and understand how our legal system works be it right or wrong. Get organized because when sharia law infiltrates our legal system (and it will) you need be prepared. So do your preteen daughters.


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