An open letter to the StFX community


Following contextualizing #MeToo

Dear President and Administration of St.Francis Xavier University,

It is evident in wake of recent events that StFX is not adequately prepared to enforce the sexual violence policy instituted last year. Students were given inadequate information far too long after the news of sexual assault became common knowledge. Resources were not distributed in the initial statement - if a notice of a news interview can be called a statement - and were then sent out two days following; it was students - leaders on house councils, society presidents, community advisors, athletes, and friends - who made these resources known and accessible in the days following the incident. A student movement, “We Stand Together”, had already designed t-shirts, stickers, and an accompanying fundraising campaign by the time students head from President Kent MacDonald. That is not okay.

As students at this institution, believers and scholars of social justice, and supporters of the campaign to end sexual violence, we have taken it upon ourselves to act. The student movement at StFX is powerful, but it cannot stand alone. To ensure that this university is a place where students can feel comfortable and safe in coming forward about instances of sexual violence and assault, and in the long haul, to eliminate sexual violence from campus entirely, we need the support of our administration. In writing this letter, we ask that you stand with us. We understand that administrative change can be difficult, but it is an expectation of an educational institution like StFX.

We have created the following list of suggestions as a starting point from which we hope StFX as an institution, and as a community, will expand upon, grow, and continue to refine in the coming months and years. They are suggestions both of actions to be taken in the present moment, as well as in future occurrences of what is not an isolated issue.

-To address the lack of resources provided in the days following the disclosure of an incident, we request that a policy be instated requiring that all students are informed of relevant resources within 24 hours of an incident becoming known. Resources should include information for both on and off campus resources, as some students may not feel comfortable seeking support from the university directly; the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association offers a number of resources, including an emergency contact list, therapeutic counselling, and a group for survivors of sexual trauma, and we believe that this should be a resource shared with students.

-To comment further on the distribution of resources, those that were sent to students on Friday, November 24, were inaccessible at the time, as the email was sent outside of regular business hours, and remained inaccessible for the weekend. Students who needed to access these services were forced to wait two days before they could seek support. Had resources been distributed sooner, this may not have posed an issue to this particular situation; however, sexual violence does not follow a defined schedule. Resources should be available to students at all times, and it is the university’s responsibility to ensure that this happens. We recommend that the university provide a phone number for an after-hours counsellor, and ensure that the number is known by all students. We are also aware that StFX used to operate a student crisis-line, and would like to recommend that this service be revived, and that the university provide the necessary crisis-intervention training and funding to sustain it.

- Media coverage of the assaults has been criticized by university staff, students, and parents alike. Not only did sources present conflicting information, but students were interviewed at random and before they had received any information from the university; this resulted in a published statement that portrayed a false image of the extent to which sexual violence and assault are issues on the StFX campus. To prevent future miscommunications with the media and ensure accuracy in all material published, we suggest that the university enforce that the outside media is not welcome on campus unless invited by university administration. We also advise that with issues of this caliber, students who choose to speak to the media on campus are vetted first by a member of the university staff who is well versed in the details surrounding the concerned incident.

- In speaking of university staff, we would like to recommend the designation or hiring of a staff member who has professional experience dealing with sexual violence and assault, and who can take the lead in handling incidents of sexual violence on campus, or at the very least the creation of an experienced committee to advise and oversee the handlings of such matters.

- Further, we believe that all university staff, with an emphasis on the upper leadership team, should be trained in how to handle and talk about incidents of sexual violence on campus in a way that is respectful victims, and promotes safety and security for all. Breaking The Silence Nova Scotia offers a six-part online training module on supporting a survivor of sexual violence that is free to access, and provides a certificate upon completion. Requiring that all university staff complete this training would be a simple task.

- It has come to our attention that Bill Clinton, who was awarded an honorary degree by StFX earlier this year, has been accused of four counts of sexual assault. This honour, we believe, was wrongly bestowed. We request that the university release a statement condemning the actions of Bill Clinton, and apologize for thinking that it would be appropriate to grant him the honour, given that according to the school’s sexual violence policy, had he been a student, he would have been expelled. Removing his image from the StFX website is also suggested. To avoid further instances such as this one, we recommend as well that the committee deciding upon recipients of honorary degrees consider the past history of prospective individuals, and allow for the reconsideration of any decisions made should new information present itself at any point before the presentation.

- Despite what image the school may try to convey, many StFX residences take part in traditions centered around misogyny and sexism. “Date nights” held by Lane, Bishops, and MacKinnon, as well as certain frosh week cheers including “all the girls sing for the boys” and “Burke is sexy”, encourage the sexual objectification of women and feed into the larger issues of gender inequality and sexual or gender based violence. The university, should it strive to adhere to the sexual violence policy instated in 2016, needs to extend its zero tolerance policy to the sexist traditions practiced in residences across campus.

- Frosh week is a great platform for stressing the university’s stance on sexual violence, and educating students on what is expected, and what is or is not tolerated. Frosh week 2017 included a presentation on sexual violence and consent; however, many students did not attend the presentation, and there was no mention of the university’s sexual violence policy. The presentation was was a step in the right direction, but it was nowhere near as effective as it could have been. Further presentations should take the time to detail the specific policies and procedures surrounding sexual violence at StFX. Students should also be provided with the policy as part of their orientation package, and it should be published visibly across campus and in residences.

- We also suggest that the Bringing In The Bystander (BITB) trainings that are mandatory for all society presidents, community advisors, and varsity athletes be required for the remainder of the student population. The two-hour training will provide students with the tools necessary to recognize, shut down, and appropriately deal with acts of sexual violence. Education is the most effective method of prevention, and we believe that in making this training mandatory for all students, incidents of sexual violence on campus will decrease drastically.

- Mandating BITB training is a step towards encouraging open discussion surrounding sexual violence, which is absolutely necessary in creating a campus environment where victims feel safe coming forwards, and where bystanders feel confident in stepping in. This conversation, however, cannot be limited to the student led trainings, it needs to extend to include the university administration. As our final suggestion, we recommend that the administration take the time to sit down with students and discuss sexual violence and assault in a judgement free atmosphere. It is students who are most affected by the issue, and so it is students’ voices that should shape further action. To truly make a positive, sustainable change, both parties will need to work together.

Thank you for taking the time read this letter. We recognize that this is not an exhaustive list of solutions, but we hope that it will serve as a starting point in discussing further action on sexual violence and assault on the StFX campus. We believe that our university has the potential to move forward and create a sustainable, positive change, and we thank you for taking our voices into consideration, and allowing us to facilitate this change alongside you.

Yours in social justice,

Adelaide Strickland, Victoria Glasner, Alaina Gillam, Sara George, Serena Faubert, Emma Purvis, Emma Kuzmyk, Brennah Agnew, Sanjidha Ganeshan, Laura Legere, Braeden Drysdale, Anola Bruneau, Susie Wolfe, Shianne Power, Noah Barrett, Emma DesLauriers, Calisha Smith, Ruby Poulette, Valerie Leighton, Alex MacIsaac, Sarah Laffin, Jackson Den Elsen, Danika van Steenburgh, Courtney MacKinnon, Dr.Nancy Forestell, Dr.Chris Frazer, and Dr.Clare Fawcett