In response to protests in the fall of 2020, Mount Allison University has implemented a new trauma-informed and survivor-centered procedure for reporting sexual violence. One key component of this response is still missing: the sexual violence prevention policy.
Despite receiving the policy earlier this summer, it was not approved by the university administration for the start of the school year. Crucially, the first six to eight weeks of the school year (the so-called Red Zone) are when more than half of annual incidents of sexual violence will occur on campus. Incidentally, this lines up with the university football season.
Students are expressing frustration over reports of Mount Allison football players engaging in sexual harassment, predatory behavior, and assault. I cannot speak directly to these concerns, nor can I speak to the consequences (or lack thereof) met by anyone who may be facing accusations. That does not change the fact that some people who are public representatives of Mount Allison University continue to benefit from significant social power while inflicting fear and trauma on others. To survivors, it may seem like the reputation of the football program is taking precedence over accountability and student safety.
I feel the need to clarify that I don’t assume all football players are interested in committing sexualized violence. Additionally, education is a central aspect of the university’s new response plan, and sports teams undergo sexual violence prevention training. I also think that if we want to change the culture of sports teams as harbingers of toxic masculinity and sexualized violence, we ought to stop assuming that every athlete participates in that culture. I would note that if you feel personally attacked by widespread accusations against those in your community, your time might be better spent thinking about how you can help mitigate sexual violence rather than defending your clique.
Of course, this is a complicated issue, and only so much can be done to confront perpetrators without formal reports, but survivors do not come forward when they don’t believe their institution will support them. Part of what was highlighted in the 2020 protests was that the existing response plan was not doing enough to support survivors or hold perpetrators accountable. That’s why approving the new policy is essential: it outlines the University’s responsibility to address campus sexualized violence and holds it accountable for enforcing the procedures in place. Getting this signature isn’t just another inconsequential act of bureaucracy; a shift in culture demands a shift in policy.
This is a major overhaul that has notably incorporated consultation with students, and that we need time to get right. That may be true, but I don’t accept it as an excuse for failing to approve the policy before the fall term. If it was prioritized according to its impact on the well-being and safety of students, it would have been done.
Though it would probably make for a more interesting op-ed, I don’t think the administration’s failure to pass the new sexual violence policy is the result of a campus-wide conspiracy to protect the football team. The less thrilling (though perhaps bleaker) reality is that existing practices simply work in favor of perpetrators. Without accountability to back up new disclosure procedures, those who have historically gotten away with abuse will continue to do so.
The only way to improve our culture of sexualized violence on campus is to a) listen to survivors and b) do something about it. Regrettably, two years have passed since our calls to action, and we’re still falling short on the latter.