It’s time to put students first

Mount Allison’s sexual assault policies and practices are far from acceptable.  A recent report by the CBC garnered a lot of attention after shedding light on sexual assault statistics at post-secondary institutions across Canada. Although Mount Allison’s S.H.A.R.E. program is an invaluable resource for victims of sexual harassment and assault, Mt. A ranked highest in New Brunswick: 14 reports were filed between 2009 and 2013. Though the numbers are high, the implications of these statistics may not be entirely bad. As the report points out, the higher sexual assault rate “could also mean the school is doing a better job of encouraging students to come forward and report incidents.”

Sexual assault on post-secondary campuses is an undeniable problem, and the recent discussion provides an opportunity to come up with an effective response. However, the administration responded with an email to all students disputing the article’s validity. It claimed the report was based on incomplete data and drew “unsubstantiated conclusions” about rape culture at Mt. A. It then went on to discuss the importance of using this controversy as an opportunity to review sexual assault policies and work to continue developing a “culture of respect.” Despite this promising sentiment, the email did little to facilitate this discourse and essentially indicated that the university cares more about its image than it does about its students.

Mount Allison was one of a handful of schools which “respectfully declined” to provide any numbers, forcing the CBC to file access to information requests. Though they were eventually able to obtain limited statistics, many schools across Canada were unable to provide sufficient numbers for the completion of the analysis. This is largely due to the fact that Canadian schools are under no legal obligation to keep track of sexual assault statistics, and there is little consistency in how they record and maintain said data. Though the CBC did manage to obtain statistics from 77 schools across Canada, their calculations are likely a gross underestimation because there is a discrepancy between what is considered sexual harassment or assault among schools. Another article by the CBC states, “[O]verall, experts say the number of sexual assaults reported to Canadian post-secondary schools is surprisingly low, and an indication that they are doing a poor job of encouraging students to come forward.”

The school’s current sexual assault policy was initiated in 1994, and encourages students to report incidents to the dean of students – a position which no longer exists at the school. In 2012, the Status of Women Canada gave funding to the MASU to conduct a safety audit in partnership with the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence A gainst Women and Children (METRAC), aimed at improving policies related to gender-based violence on campus to make them more specific and effective. The final report made several recommendations to increase campus safety, ranging from increasing overnight security patrols to restructuring student discipline processes in the event of an assault. However, few of these recommendations have been implemented. Post-secondary institutions are under an obligation to put the safety and respect of their students above all else.

Continued inaction with regard to effective sexual assault policies does nothing but perpetuate entrenched values and prevent real change from occurring. It’s time for schools to put students first.

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