Students partnered up with national student movement Our Turn to address sexual violence
Sexual assault, harassment, inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct are realities in college, and more students are doing something about it.
Along with others, social service worker student Stephanie Cole partnered with the national student movement, Our Turn, to address sexual violence at George Brown College (GBC).
After doing research, Cole noticed that several universities and colleges across the country have been opening the discussion and she wanted to bring it to GBC.
Ontario legislation requires colleges and universities, “to work with students to adopt campus-wide sexual violence and harassment policies that include training, prevention, complaint procedures and response protocols.”
Cole believes that the current GBC policy and protocol on sexual assault and sexual violence is not inclusive of survivors, nor is it extensive enough to be able to meet all GBC students’ needs.
“Our current policy is not very survivor focused. We want to make sure that the survivors are getting all the aid and accommodations that they need,” Cole said.
To change GBC, Cole looked for help from Our Turn, which is now devoted to preventing sexual violence at colleges and universities across Canada. The national student group was formed due to what they saw as a lack of consultation on their sexual violence policies at Carleton University.
“Our Turn is a national student union to end campus sexual violence. It was an initiated when we published the national action plan, working with the students’ society at McGill University in October,” said Caitlin Salvino, Our Turn national committee chair.
According to Salvino, the main focus of the campaign with GBC students is to support and help to consolidate the student group, to work on prevention, creating sexual violence directions, provide training and help to develop better policies on the topic.
“We now work with 26 student unions from eight provinces across the country, representing over 600,000 students. We work with them to give them the tools to respond to these issues on campuses,” said Salvino.
“We are going to work with (GBC students) to go through their policy. Depending on what GBC students would like, what they ask for, we will work with them,” Salvino added.
For Cole, the main purpose of partnering with Our Turn is to raise awareness among the student community about sexual violence, ways to prevent it, and structural policy reforms.
Several activities, YouTube videos and posts on social media are part of the actions that are being carried out to encourage the participation of the student community. The group is also planning events that will encourage survivors to meet and share their stories with one another.
Our Turn also put up posters saying that the college’s sexual violence response team is “non-existent” and that the college’s office that handles complaints has been “sitting empty.”
The GBC staff member who was the sexual response advisor, switched jobs on March 2 and is now working with the counselling department. In the interim, students were directed to the intake and operations co-ordinator who would pass along cases to case workers at the diversity, equity and human rights office (DEHR).
“It is very concerning to me to have students say we don’t know where to go,” said Olga Dosis, human rights advisor to the president. “While we’re always trying to figure out better ways to reach our constituents, we’re always open to feedback.”
The DEHR office has seen a number of staff turn over in the last school year, with the recent transfer to the counselling department, one staff member retiring, and another moving on to teach at a university.
Dosis said that the college is in the process of hiring staff to fill the vacant positions.
While the work around sexual violence has not stopped, with other staff picking up the caseload, Dosis said that sometimes they are working out of the office. She said the offices are there to provide a safe space for students to talk with an advisor on their campus.
“We don’t ask our students to travel if they want to lodge a complaint,” Dosis said. “We go to them.”
Dosis said that the best way for students to contact the college about sexual violence is to go to any of the DEHR offices or to call 416-415-5000 Ext. 3450.
GBC recently ran a sexual violence survey, seeking students’ opinion, in order to improve safety and support on campus.
“The best way to create awareness among the student community for this kind of topic is to make sure that it is always being talked about,” said Cole. “It’s a sensitive topic but needs to be out there, people need to see it, and by doing that, we can help.”
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, one in every five women will experience sexual violence while studying at a college or university.