Another Letter Written to Principal Woolf Addressing Sexual Violence at Queen’s

7 Dec

The following letter was written on 30 November, 2014. Levana supports the Department of Global Development Studies:

‘Dear Principal Woolf,

As members of the university community, the Department of Global Development Studies wishes to contribute to making it clear that sexual assault violates a person’s right and safety to study and work.

In light of the recent article in the Toronto Star (on Nov 20, 2014 http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/11/20/canadian_postsecondary_schools_failing_sex_assault_victims.html) which documented an incident of sexual assault at Queen’s we hoped for a timely and adequate response from your administration.  We were disappointed that you were unavailable for an interview on this important subject when the Toronto Star contacted you.  In a subsequent article published in the Gazette (on Nov 21, 2014http://www.queensu.ca/gazette/stories/statement-regarding-toronto-star-story-sexual-assault?utm_source=e-queens-gazette_faculty) you suggest that Queen’s has a sexual assault counsellor (whom, we understand, editors refused to name). But, we are concerned that this counsellor and the offices associated with it are unknown to many of us in the Queen’s community. Moreover, even by using a simple Google search many of us have been unable to find the dedicated ‘sexual assault outreach counsellor’ you mention in your article. There may be an outreach counsellor, but the fact that we can’t easily locate their contact information contributes to the problems of access that the Toronto Star article highlights. Making this information easily available to all of us would better allow us to share it with our students.

We are encouraged to note that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Working Group has been hard at work on a number of activities. Once again, however, the fact that the Working Group was unknown to many of us further illustrates the need for better communication and information-sharing within the Queen’s community about such institutional efforts under way.

As you and others in upper administration deliberate on the Working Group’s recommendations for policy, we hope you will keep in mind the strength of Lakehead University policy and the speed with which they moved from adverse events to producing a policy that is not purely reactive. Some of the useful dimensions of the Lakehead policy on sexual assault policy as noted in the Toronto Star article are that:

  • it spells out the rights of victims coming forward, including a promise for academic accommodation and the responsibilities of staff;
  • it clearly articulates how a complaint can be launched and what may come of it if the school finds a student guilty after investigation;
  • sanctions range from admonishment, to restrictions on student’s movements around campus, to expulsion;

Lakehead’s principal believes the University should be able to balance a presumption of innocence with supporting and accommodating students who say they have been sexually assaulted. ‘All we are saying,’ President Brian Stevenson states, ‘is we will do our best to accommodate you; we will believe you’.

As the fall semester comes to a close, we encourage you to make a similar powerful and unqualified statement in support of victims of sexual assault and their right to safety and dignity on Queen’s campus. In addition, we encourage rigorous research on sexual assaults on campus and we ask that the results of such research be made public so that we can collectively respond to the problem.Ultimately, we hope that, in such research and policy initiatives, sexual assault will not just be treated as a mental health issue which tends to individualize the after-effects of sexual assault. Rather, we hope that recent efforts will produce research on sexual assault on campus as well as sexual assault policy that treats it as an issue of systemic violence, injustice, and discrimination. We believe that, in so doing, we can construct robust initiatives that respond to and prevent sexual assault.

Sincerely,

Department of Global Development Studies

Faculty and Staff

DSC – Undergraduate

DSC – Graduate’

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