On October 21, Mt. A closed the feedback period for its new sexual violence policy, marking almost two years’ worth of progress and consultations to build the file. The updated sexual violence policy is guided around trauma-informed and survivor-centered values and began from scratch to replace the older, less holistic version.
The Argosy had the opportunity to meet with Tasia Alexopoulos, Mt. A’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Co-ordinator, during one of the policy feedback sessions to discuss the new policy and what the Mt. A community can expect from its content.
Alexopoulos noted that the former sexual violence policy “tended to manage things in the moment, in the most convenient way but not the right way,” and the new policy aimed to create formal processes to ensure the most support for survivors.
One major change to Mt. A’s sexual violence policy is the creation of two new positions dedicated to services and support for survivors. Jade Lister has recently filled in the position of the Sexual Violence Response, Equity Diversity, and Inclusion Consultant (SVREDIC). This position is the first person of contact for disclosures, where survivors can be connected to support and learn about complaint pathways if they wish to pursue further action.
The second position added to Mt. A’s policy is the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Co-ordinator (SVPEC), filled currently by Alexopoulos. According to the policy, they work with Student Affairs and play “a leadership role in programming and support focused on prevention and education related to sexual harassment and violence on campus.” Both of the positions are completely separate, so Alexopoulos has no access to files unless the survivor requests to share them. This is to prevent any conflicts of interest in the process and guarantee confidentiality.
Two paths can be taken in a disclosure in this new policy: first, students can choose to access support services without a formal complaint being filed, called a disclosure, or survivors can pursue some form of action against their perpetrator, called a complaint. These actions can be either non-investigative, where survivors request an outcome (for example, a no-contact order or education sessions), or investigative action, where external investigators are hired to create a report with recommendations which the VP International Student Affairs (VPISA) chooses from. The VPISA also undergoes extensive sexual violence and trauma-informed training to qualify for this. All processes can be appealed upon request.
“Every step [in the new process] has a container of privacy and training,” Alexopoulos highlighted, noting the research and training supporting everyone involved in the process and the confidentiality they are held to for disclosures and complaints.
Alexopoulos explained how a new addition to the policy is that reports and disclosures are no longer limited by timeframes; previously, there was a one-year time limit to disclose to the University. She also explained how changes and more requests can be made to accommodate survivors’ needs regardless of what kind of action is taken to address the incident.
Disclosures are now kept permanently by the University, whereas previous policies required destroying them every five years. Alexopoulos noted how it is important to have evidence on file in case survivors choose to act after their time at Mt. A. These are highly confidential and are not available to anyone except the VPISA and the SVPEC when requested by survivors or subpoenaed.
Disclosures are now done through an online portal, REES, where anyone can report an incident at any time, even when school is not in session. Alexopoulos claimed that the online disclosure process puts disclosure into the hands of the survivor, where they can take as much time as they would like to explain their story. There are built-in supports throughout the process. The system is encrypted and confidential unless an individual chooses to name themselves as well.
REES also compiles statistics about sexual violence disclosures that the University can then use to improve the procedures and contribute to a mandatory annual report put together by the SVPEC.
A working item on the policy is mandatory training for all members of the university. “We are going to be pursuing mandatory training, but we’re not sure how to enforce this yet,” Alexopoulos said. Other universities have different approaches to this, such as Concordia: the school requires all staff and students to do mandatory sexual violence education prevention training by a specific deadline. Students who do not complete the training on time “will have a block placed on their student account that will prevent registration for future semesters unless the training is completed,” and employees will be addressed appropriately through their collective or employee policy.
This is an essential aspect of the policy, as Alexopoulos explained that multiple survivors who disclosed to her during her time at Mt. A — as both Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Coordinator and a faculty member — felt that their experiences could have been prevented with mandatory education for everyone.
Procedures for responding to sexual violence are not outlined specifically in the new policy, but this is intentional. “Separating the procedures from policies make them more accessible,” said Alexopoulos. Policies are a written explanation of the beliefs and values of an institution, and procedures as methods to uphold these policies within the institution’s abilities. Making them separate allows for changes to be made more frequently to best support survivors, rather than having to rely on annual approvals for changes at administrative meetings. The policy itself is directed toward the administrative side of the University, whereas the procedures are for those directly involved with the complaint.
A review one year after the policy’s implementation will occur, and then these reviews will continue every three years. Recommendations are consequently welcome at any time and can be sent to Alexopoulos via email. The policy changes will then be brought to the Board of Regents in a finished state to be implemented.
Alexopoulos also mentioned how the kickstart to these changes — the Fall 2020 protests begun by alum Michelle Roy’s public outcry of the mishandling of sexual violence at Mt. A — was a fluke, and that these problems existed for years before the protests. “It’s been going on much longer than 2020,” Alexopoulos said.
The full policy draft, current resources, and an explanation of procedures are available on the Mt. A website.