The role of bad press in the University Avenue changes
At first glance, the two buildings that sit across from each other on University Avenue are unassuming. Compared to the glamorous and newly constructed features boasted by some of the newer residences, Cameron and MacKinnon don’t have a lot going for them, at least in appearance. But for those who are in on the secret, those who have friends, siblings, or aunts who lived here, these buildings are so much more. Many people will tell you about how their family convinced them to come to StFX through stories of their glory days: winning house cups, bonding with their roommates and making friends they would have forever. Those who chose to live here on a whim, or who were randomly assigned here to their initial disappointment, soon realized that these residences had so much more to offer than sub-par water pressure and a close proximity to meal hall.
Sexual assault is not a new issue for StFX, nor is it a new issue for every single university in Canada. Despite this, most schools have yet to figure out concrete and long term solutions, and in the students eyes at least, unaware as they are to what conspires behind the scenes, the response seems to be lacking. The universities latest solution to the problem is the decision to eliminate single-gender residences in all but one floor of the soon to be re-opened MacIsaac hall (this does not include a single-gender option for men). In the heated discussion upon which the decision was announced, current and past residents crowded the Schwartz auditorium and demanded answers as to why this decision was made.
For most of the meeting, Andrew Beckett made vague claims about “behavioral issues”, to the increasing frustrations of the students. Despite claiming that ten years of research had gone into this decision, he was unable to provide any concrete or numerical data when requested. Eventually, he admitted that one of the main reasons was because seven out of eight of reported sexual assaults that year had occurred from residents of Cameron and Mackinnon Hall. Personally, I was appalled to hear that the number of reported sexual assaults was so low.
After I recovered from that initial emotion, I could not help but feel as if we were being punished for fostering an environment where people felt comfortable enough to report their sexual assaults. Certainly the university is not delusional enough to believe that eight is the total number of sexual assaults that occurred on campus this year? I can tell you from my personal experience that I have heard more than eight stories of sexual assault this year solely from people that I know. Perhaps my opinion on the matter is clouded by my proximity to the issue, as I am a first year student who currently lives in Chillis, but to me it seems as if the university is taking the easy way out because they want to appear as if they are trying to solve the problem.
It is difficult to deny the bad press they have received because of the recent sexual assault allegations that have come to light, but I would have hoped that preventing sexual assault was more important to the university than protecting their image. I have trouble seeing how making the residences co-ed will change the culture of sexual violence at our university and in our society as a whole. If the university had been listening to the students, they would have heard many plausible and powerful ideas to initiate change. Instead they are putting the blame of the one reported and highly publicized case of sexual violence at STFX on our communities.
By punishing us for the culture of sexual violence in our society, they undermine the experiences of sexual violence occurring on our campus every day that go unreported because people are afraid to face the university, and because people are aware they will most likely be victim shamed and told they do not have enough evidence to go to the police. I believe that if the university truly wanted to end the culture of sexual violence on campus they would be encouraging people to report instead of fostering an environment where people are afraid of the consequences their own communities will face if they do.
Obviously, this is only my opinion, and perhaps it will be altered if the university is able to provide the research they claim to have been doing for many years. At this point, I am feeling confused and disappointed at their decision, a feeling which I am certain is shared by many other students. I only hope that the Students' Union and the University realize the implications of their decision reach far beyond the walls of Cameron and MacKinnon Hall.