First stand-alone Sexual Violence Policy at StFX
Tuesday, November 8 was an important day in StFX history as students, staff, and faculty gathered in the Bloomfield Centre MacKay Lounge for the official launch of the university’s new Sexual Violence Policy.
After a long and collaborative process that began in December of 2014, President Dr. Kent MacDonald launched StFX University’s first standalone Sexual Violence Policy, with previous procedures addressed within the Student Code of Conduct.
The policy states that StFX does not tolerate sexual violence. It outlines the university’s response protocol to sexual violence involving students, details the reporting procedures, and provides information regarding resources and support.
Members of the Sexual Violence Policy Implementation Committee (SVPIC) also addressed the room last Tuesday, including Head of Student Services Bob Hale.
“I was trying to think this morning, how long we’ve been working on this Sexual Violence Policy,” Hale said in his opening remarks. “And it’s probably 163 years because it’s the first time we’ve documented it and had it on file.”
The new policy builds upon the foundational work done by Preventing Violence Against Women at StFX, a federally funded initiative through the Status of Women, who made the recommendation that the university develop a standalone sexual violence policy a few years ago.
This was the task of the SVPIC, a committee that included representation from StFX faculty, staff, and students, and community partners like the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre.
“This is a very important day for all of us,” said committee co-chair and Health and Counseling Centre Director Margie McKinnon. “I don’t know if there’s every been such a collaborative effort as the development of this policy. Part of the reason that it’s taken a long time to get to this point is that many voices have been expressed and many voices have been listened to in the writing of policy.”
McKinnon continued to say that the rights of victim/survivors are paramount, which is something that was continually placed at the forefront of all policy writing.
Committee co-chair and Dean of Education Dr. Jeff Orr echoed a recurring sentiment what while the policy is not perfect, it is a policy to guide us forward.
“What I’m most proud of about this policy is the fact that I know, from the bottom of my heart, that there’s deep and wide commitment across the institution for this policy,” Dr. Orr said. “And that means that it’s going to lead to something enduring and sustainable.”
He adds that it has, and continues to be, a learning process. Much work needs to be done to challenge the current culture and to educate our communities.
“The work is just beginning now,” continued Dr. Orr. “The work of changing the culture, and re-educating and reframing our thinking and how we go about our daily lives – every one of us. That is the work ahead of us.”
Alicia Silliker, Education student and former Students’ Union vice-president, was the student voice on the SVPIC and is now looking forward to seeing how the policy, and the culture at StFX, evolves over time.
Silliker held an active role throughout the process – along with recent graduates Bridget Houston, Brianna Boyle, and Hannah Stordy who she recognized as she addressed the crowd on Tuesday.
“I also just want to thank everyone on the committee equally who made me feel like I could speak up and say what I wanted to, and not be afraid to have that student voice and that student perspective,” Silliker said.
In developing the new policy at StFX, the SVPIC explored examples from universities across Canada, according to Hale, and reached out to the Ontario Association of Colleges who were the first in the country to come up with a standard policy.
A draft of the policy was sent to President’s Council and then to lawyers for a review before edits and revisions were made.
It was the expectation that the policy would have been ready for September 1, 2016.
Dr. MacDonald called attention to each of the speakers at the beginning of the event, thanking them for their efforts and contributions in developing the new policy. He also acknowledged those who voiced frustrations with the prolonged development and implementation process.
“Sexual violence occurs on this campus. There is no sense in us trying to ignore it or bury our head,” said Dr. MacDonald towards the end of his address. “The effort of this policy is to continue the efforts that we have undertaken at StFX University to educate individuals coming onto this campus, those who work and live here, and also the new students that will come every year onto this campus.”
He notes that though the policy is not perfect, it is one more commitment that the university has to its students as they pursue an education at StFX.
“I think it took a new administration that has been willing to take these issues seriously to have the support and momentum to get this through,” shared Dr. Nancy Forestell who also contributed to the process. “Yes, there are institutions across the country that have in place an explicit policy dealing with sexualized violence,” Dr. Forestell said. “But we’re not by any means the last. In fact, we’re ahead of many other institutions in terms of the process.”
Going forward, the committee will work to prevent sexual violence on campus through educational sessions and by ensuring that each and every student has access to the policy.
“It has to be reviewed after the first year,” said Hale. “And then it’s mandated in Dr. MacDonald’s policy structure and every five years it must be reviewed.”
Members of the SVPIC were on hand in the main lobby of the Bloomfield Centre from 1 to 3 p.m. on November 8 and 9 to answer questions and provide resources to students.
The committee also held a screening of The Hunting Ground, a documentary that shines a spotlight on the culture of sexualized violence at American post-secondary institutions, in the Schwartz Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. on November 9.
Following the screening, committee members McKinnon, Hale, and Director of Student Life Jacqueline De Leebeeck engaged students in a question and answer period about the policy and sexual violence both on or off campus.
The new Sexual Violence Policy has been distributed via email and will be available on the StFX website. A hard copy will be distributed to new students as they arrive in the fall.