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"Safer University and Colleges Act" - Not just good. It's Crucial.

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
"This legislation, and the ensuing discussion, has been framed as a good first step towards ending sexual assault on campuses. Yet how is it acceptable that in 2015 we are just now taking our first step towards making sure that women and trans people are not raped while at school in Nova Scotia?" [photo: monnibo via flickr]
"This legislation, and the ensuing discussion, has been framed as a good first step towards ending sexual assault on campuses. Yet how is it acceptable that in 2015 we are just now taking our first step towards making sure that women and trans people are not raped while at school in Nova Scotia?" [photo: monnibo via flickr]

By Rebecca Rose

A bill put forth on Tuesday, May 5th, by the provincial New Democratic Party, mandates that Nova Scotia colleges and universities work with students to develop sexual assault policies, and that these policies be evaluated and renewed every four years. The bill also states that institutions must have complaint procedures and response protocols, training and prevention programs and 24-hour support for survivors. Additionally, it would mandate institutional support for initiatives aiming to reduce (why not end?) - and provide information to students regarding - sexual violence.

This legislation, and the ensuing discussion, has been framed as a good first step towards ending sexual assault on campuses. Yet how is it acceptable that in 2015 we are just now taking our first step towards making sure that women and trans people are not raped while at school in Nova Scotia?

The bill is a direct response to recommendations made by the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia in a lobby document presented earlier this year, so may be counted as a victory for students. (Politicians listening to students is good, though less surprising when they are in opposition.) Many of the CFS-NS requests were brought to life in Tuesday's private members bill, but for the ones tied to government resources, including: a fund to help students, groups and institutions create or improve “education or training and support resources on campus or in the greater campus community” and a “Sexual Assault Support division within the Government of Nova Scotia”.

In these systems that we have built – government and universities – policy has become an important, if not always the most inspiring, tool for making change. But policy alone isn’t going to end rape on, or off, campus. According to stats recently released by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, two-thirds of Canadians (67%) do not understand what consent actually means. Universities and colleges are prime locations for this sort of education: tens of thousands of students flock to our province's 10 universities each year and are captive audiences for (at least) eight months.

Implementing the supports and services outlined in the bill, which are sorely needed, also requires funding. When governments decrease core funding to universities, as have the Liberals and NDP, it impacts the provision of services (such as counselling and resources around sexual assault) at our colleges and universities. Right now, the onus of ending rape culture on campuses has fallen on student unions, the CFS and groups such as South House, Dalhousie’s gender justice centre.

The Canadian Federation of Students launched the now ubiquitous “No Means No” anti-rape campaign nearly 20 years ago, a lifetime for many of today’s university and college students. There have been campaigns, and press releases, and rallies, and survivors sharing their stories for (at least) two decades. There have been high profile incidents of rape on Canadian university campuses (Carleton and York for example) and rape threats against the students’ union president at the University of Ottawa.

For Nova Scotia to act, it took Rehtaeh, and the SMU rape chant and the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal (and the student and public outrage that followed) and another scandal in Dal’s Howe Hall. It took a public relations nightmare for both the province and Dalhousie. It took the Ontario government introducing a provincial sexual violence and harassment action plan (again at the behest of students). The Nova Scotia NDP held a majority government for four years, during which rape and misogyny on campus were still very much a reality; but did not take the opportunity to introduce similar or stronger legislation.

The NDP has called for non-partisan, all party support of the bill and pledged to support similar legislation if put forward by the Liberal government. The Liberals were less than enthusiastic about the bill, reserving comment with Minister of Community Services, Joanne Bernard, only saying that the conversation about sexual assault “is always good to have.”

It’s not just “good”, it’s crucial.

The “Safer University and Colleges Act” mandates institutions to procure “significant input from its students”. This is commendable, but doesn’t define what this would entail. Student representatives know that in the past “student input” has included anything from consultations with non-elected students, hand-picked by university administration, to last minute meetings with the students’ union where the administration is not bound to follow their demands. While the bill does not lay out clear consequences for non-compliant universities, the fact that it would be law (and not a Memorandum of Understanding, used by past governments to regulate student fees) does give students more recourse.

Students are the experts on student issues, including rape and misogyny on campus, but are given little input and, more importantly, power when it comes to the decisions that have a direct bearing on their studies and their lives.

University presidents are hired, not elected and students are woefully represented on their governing bodies (if they weren’t, tuition fees would not be so high). It is the students’ unions, not the administration, that hold regular general meetings where students can vote, and that are mandated to hold a campus-wide referenda in order to increase a fee or implement a new society. Real change at an institutional level, whether it be around rape culture or tuition fees, means creating more democratic, student and worker driven universities and colleges.

It will require structural changes.

Ending rape culture on and off campus will also require that Nova Scotians (including university administrators and politicians) get over our fear of talking about sex and consent, especially with young people, especially with young boys. And we’re going to have to start naming, and deconstructing, the very things that lead to the SMU rape chant, the Dalhousie Dentistry Gentleman’s Club and the countless reported and unreported rapes on our campuses.

As incoming CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte says in this video “we can all take an active role in resisting sexism, in resisting misogyny and resisting patriarchy and resisting and challenging rape culture”.

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989 words


Capus Sexual Abuse.

The main problem at Dalhousie is that when it happened last Dec. the administration, led by President Florizone, but little doubt including the Board of Governors, moved to try to keep things quiet and belittle the complaints.  They blocked any direct punative action by channeling everything into this community justice process contrary to the wishes of the victims and in some cases they didn't even inform the women theatened with "hate sex" that they were involved, yet they are there telling the public that they all consented.

This sort of thing drew more criticism and it took off on Twitter and likely other places. The names of the perpetrators have not been revealed, but the women who did know that they were mentioned were told that if they launched a formal complaint that their names would have to be revealed.  So coersion against the victims and coddling of the perpetrators seem to be Dal's policy.

All in all, the misogynists are still going to graduate and presumably become doctors and dentists if they can get licenced, and the university administration seems just fine with that, in fact they pushed for it quite strongly. They even hired a public relations firm to make the University look good which probably cost them a lot more than if they had actually fixed the problem by expelling the offending students, and perhaps nullifying their credits.  These men should never become doctors!

Instead there has been virtually no consequences and so incidents still continue, even already during the past semester.  If they don't fix the problem it will not go away!  It's as simple as that.  If they don't fix the problem then we have to keep reminding them of it and the other universities as well.  Policies don't stop misogynists with psychopathic tendencies from re-offending.  Consequences should do that.  A policy of zero tolerance for sexual abuse, with enforcement would be a step in the right direction.  Dalhousie hasn't even taken the little baby step of changing the rule that those who bring complaints must have their names revealed.  That can be quite intimidating for a woman or a man who's been abused in the current University atmosphere, or even in society's atmosphere.  It would be a small step in the right direction to protect the victims.

Until then the has tag #Dalhousiehateswomen seems quite applicable. They should be doing their best to prevent a recurrance of this scandal.  Hiding behind rhetoric and PR companies will in the long run be more expensive to the university in a monetary sense and in their decreased reputation than fixing the problem, and until they do fix the problem, student & people in general should remind them ofthe problem from time to time.  They may take a hint, and hopefully they will before another serious eventtakes place andf there are more victims who can this time say that the University knew about the problem and did nothing to fix it.  Dalhousie should ask it's lawyers what that lawsuit would be likely to cost them, when weighing the risks of continuing on their current path.


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