Mount Allison students are hopeful that the new institutional policy on Sexual Violence Prevention and Response will effect much-needed change on campus.
Last year, the Argosy reported on several instances of sexual assault at Mt. A. For many students, the new policy is a step towards creating a safer environment.
Second-year women’s and gender studies student Olivia Landry is hopeful that the new policy will provide a more effective procedure than its precursor.
“[The policy] needs to be able to effectively handle what it’s dealing with,” Landry said. “Under the old policy for investigation into sexual assault, it felt like nothing conclusive could be done by the university, no matter what evidence was found.”
Landry said she hopes Mt. A students become familiar with the new policy. “I hope students will know that this exists, that it is used and is taken seriously.”
The new policy was drafted by Mt. A Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) coordinator Melody Petlock in conjunction with Kim Meade, vice-president international and student affairs. The former policy on sexual assault had been in place since 1994, with only slight reformatting in 1999.
The draft policy was circulated to the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) and underwent student consultation sessions before it was passed by the Board of Regents.
Third-year student and SHARE summer intern Shannon Power cited the options laid out by the new policy for students reporting sexual violence.
“A student can take an informal route, which operates entirely out of Melody [Petlock]’s office, or they can choose to pursue a formal investigation, either with a trained team here at Mt. A or with an external law firm that we’ve partnered with.”
Power said that this is part of a trauma-informed approach to responding to sexual violence.
“When someone’s autonomy is taken away from them in an act of sexual violence, one of the most important things you can do is not to re-traumatize someone and deny them their agency and autonomy when they’re trying to do something about it.”
Notably, the policy includes significant changes in vocabulary. “Things like verbally assaulting someone over and over again can be constituted as sexual violence where it might not have been included in a conventional definition of sexual assault, and I think that’s really important,” said Power. “It’s really important to understand that even the smaller thin
gs that we do still feed into a culture where more people feel marginalized and vulnerable. I think the new policy is approaching that, even just in the changes in language.”
Third-year biology student Hannah Mackellar said she is impressed by the efforts made in the new policy.
“I read a couple of different sexual assault policies from other universities, and they were just that: sexual assault policies. They had nothing to say about sexual violence. I like that Mt. A’s does,” Mackellar said. “The policy also does a good job of mentioning how sexual violence is a systemic problem and how it can intersect with other things like ability and sexual orientation.”
Despite her enthusiasm about the policy, Mackellar noted that there is more to be done.
“A lot is mentioned about sexual awareness, prevention, education and training, but there’s no exact description of this education,” she said. “I would like a more thorough curriculum to be available to students.”
The new policy is available to read on the Mt. A website.